The Postal Service set a precedent when it released Give Up 10 years ago. After that point, musicians could be in a band, but they didn't have to live anywhere near their fellow band members. And from there on out, everything written about said band would mention the oh-so-quirky factoid about how its members didn't reside in the same place.
Indie-pop act King of Prussia is that kind of act. At various times, various members have lived in Athens, Ga. (where, for all intents and purposes, we'll say King of Prussia is based), Myrtle Beach, and Chicago, and they still manage to put out records and tour and, basically, be a band. They just have to meet up for some bootcamp rehearsals before they hit the road. And here we are, writing about how eccentric it is that they don't live in the same place.
But it's also been just a little bit harder for King of Prussia than it was for the Postal Service's Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamberello, since two of its permanent members, singer-guitarist Brandon Hanick and multi-instrumentalist Nathan Troutman, spent years living in Barcelona while working on this project. They'd return to the South to put out albums like Transmissions From the Grand Strand, which got a lot of blogger buzz when it was released in April 2012. And while Hanick and Troutman are back in the States permanently (for now), there are still two other bandmates — Vasco Batista and Simon Mille — who are true-blue Europeans living overseas. Bassist Brian Smith is the only American member of the band without any ex-pat tendencies; he's holed up in Athens, where everyone else reunited recently to get ready for their current three-week tour.
The band is also preparing to release the double-album Zonian Girls & Summer Spooks in the near future. "With this album, we kind of really took what we were doing recording-wise to the next level, which is really putting together both sides of King of Prussia, the European version and the American version, and everyone was able to contribute equally," Flanick says. "So it's really just a matter of being able to include everybody on both sides of the ocean, which is a big advantage to recording outside of a traditional studio."
All of the songs were written in Barcelona while Hanick was doing his three-year stint there. Drum parts were recorded in a studio in Bordeaux, France, with an engineer who didn't speak English, which wouldn't have been an issue if only Hanick knew how to speak French. "It still went very smoothly, considering, which is kind of an interesting thing, that you can sort of achieve the sound that you want even if you don't speak the language," Hanick says. "If you speak the language of music, then you can communicate with anybody. It sounds cheesy, but it's true." Guitars and female vocals were tracked in Hanick's Barcelona apartment, and the rest of the project came together in Athens at Smith's house and the nearby Glow Recording Studio.
On previous King of Prussia records, it was easy to hear the hints of Belle and Sebastian and other nostalgia-driven acts, but the guys promise that Zonian Girls & Summer Spooks strays from the obvious '60s influence into other musical decades. There are some hints of the Cure and a lot more driving, rocking songs with horns and strings and '90s alt-rock guitar. The arrangements are lusher and more dense, and there are differences lyrically too. "Thematically, it kind of turned out to be that half of the songs are happy, which is kind of a rare thing for me to write a happy song, but somehow I wrote 10 of them," Hanick says. "And the other half are very, very dark lyrically." That's why the band wants to put out the project as a double album or as two separate but conjoined releases. As Hanick explains, each song on one half has a cousin on the other, linked by arrangement, title, or lyrical theme. It's two sides of a singular concept.
"I think the songs are a bit more extreme, either in a sort of darker way or a lighter way," he says. "But either way more extreme than normal, because living outside of the country, outside of your comfort zone, the experiences can be more intense."
And hey, maybe someday soon Hanick will return to Barcelona and write the next King of Prussia record. It would make for a good hook for a music story, that's for sure.