Saint Motel is back with a new project and if there’s anything we can expect, it’s the unexpected. After establishing themselves as trailblazers in the national music scene by releasing their second studio album saintmotelevision as the first-ever virtual reality album, devotees of the band have been waiting for where they would take us next. It’s safe to say Saint Motel is still embodying innovation after releasing the first part of their three-part album in October, The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Part 1.
Before the band makes their stop at the Ogden Theatre on “The Motion Picture Show Tour,” frontman A/J Jackson chatted with us about how the band has grown since saintmotelevision, what to expect from parts two and three of their new album and what it was like to finally meet one of the band’s inspirations, Phoenix.
303 Magazine: How is 2020 treating you so far?
A/J Jackson: It’s been good. We’re with the band right now and in a rehearsal space getting ready for the tour so we’re excited.
303: With your current album — The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack — you guys have made the decision to release it in three parts. What inspired this decision?
AJ: By breaking it up into three parts, we’re able to spend more time with each part rather than throwing them together all at once and then just having kind of one song being the focus song. When we break it down into parts like that, we were able to kind of give focus to each song and I feel like it’s kind of more — you get more time with each one, rather than everything’s instantly out and gone. I think it’s also perfect for the concept of the album with the three-act structure of a movie — the three acts, the three parts. So it kind of felt thematically appropriate, and it also felt like a way for us to release the music and maybe serve all the songs of the album a little bit more depth.
303: So, I know that part of this three-part concept has to do with the “Hero’s Journey” theme in literature. Would you say that there are characters involved in this three-part album? Is there a hero here?
AJ: Yeah, you know it’s funny the songs weren’t written for the concept. The songs are all kind of just written on their own but the way they all fit together — I don’t know if it’s by chance or what, but there does seem, to me at least, to be an arc. You know, especially leaving Part One with “Save Me” as the call to action, it’s kind of like the hero’s rise. And then Part Two kind of picks up right where we left off. And then, you know, it brings you through the storyline, culminating at the end of the final moment, the showdown. That gets resolved in Part Three. I don’t really know how exactly that happened, but it fits perfectly without being necessarily a concept album in a sense of us writing it all with this idea and these characters and these boundaries and these restraints. Instead, allowing the music to kind of be free, but having it also fit into this narrative is just exciting. And the more we go through it all, the more it jumps out and becomes apparent that it is happening this way. So yeah, to get these songs, it does fit that format.
303: So with “Save Me” as the call to action that leads into Part Two, is there anything you can tell us about where this story goes next?
AJ: Yeah, I think the next part is kind of going into some uncharted territory, I guess. It’s almost like if this was the movie, this would be going out of your comfort zone, and kind of figuring out the way to overcome all these kinds of new challenges. I think that Part Two kind of captures that well, musically and instrumentation-wise. It’s a bit of a departure that is happening here. So people will probably say, “Oh, sounds like typical Saint Motel.” But I think it’s probably, of the three parts, the one that goes into different sonic landscapes, more so than maybe we have in the past. So this is, I think, an adventurous part of the album.
303: The multimedia aspect of your music is a hugely important part of Saint Motel’s identity. Are you guys picturing the songs while they’re being written and created? Where does the creation of the visual aspect begin?
AJ: Yeah, that’s a good question. It changes every time. For this album, like right from the very start, we knew that the first tour, the “Motion Picture Show,” is gonna have to be something that kind of encapsulates the idea of what we’re doing here. So yeah, we’re trying to — I think our last tour, “Late Night Show,” on our last album was all of our favorite tours, I think. I’m very happy with how that turned out. And that was, at the time, kind of a crazy idea — definitely more theatrical. But those things, I think, made it in the end just a better all-around experience. So then this time with The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and “Motion Picture Show,” we’re trying to figure out how to — I think “Late Night Show” pushed us so far that now it’s a bit of a challenge to beat it. Which is good, a good place to be. I think it’s always good to push yourself a little farther and so far, this tour is shaping up to be pretty big.
303: Do you guys always feel that pressure to take it a step further? I mean, with saintmotelevision and the 360-degree visualizers, that was huge and pretty innovative. Are you feeling a lot of that pressure to deliver more and more with this one?
AJ: Well, I think just in general, as far as pushing the boundaries, always finding interesting new things for us, that’s always been part of our motto, and that’s not too much pressure. But on the tour front, you have this unique set of constraints, you know, of different sized rooms. There are all these extra challenges besides just doing something that you have done before, you know? So it’s like, the challenges are just different and you know very quickly if it works or not. Then, you have to do this in front of a room full of people and you want to blow their minds. So I think the pressure is just different with the tour than it is with the other stuff, but as far as feeling like we have to outdo ourselves constantly — is that pressure? No, that’s actually the fun part of it. Honestly, that’s what keeps me going.
303: Watching the visualizers for Part One, I noticed that it’s pretty much entirely dance-focused and really diverse in dance styles. Can we expect some similar choreography during your tour? Are you guys going to be dancing as well?
AJ: [Laughs] I couldn’t stop dancing if I tried. For this tour, the general concept was, how do we make it feel like you’re not just watching a movie? How do we make you feel like you’re inside of it and an active participant in the “Motion Picture Show?” I think we came up with a way where it solves that problem because we don’t want people to be staring at a screen behind us. We don’t want to make it a passive experience. We want you to kind of feel as if you’re part of it. And that was the challenge at the beginning. I can’t really say how we’re exactly doing that yet without ruining it, but that’s kind of the goal we’re going for.
303: So, I’m curious, with the name of this three-part album being The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and your really intense dedication to vibrant story-based visuals, would you guys ever consider really diving into the film industry and making a full-length movie, either based off this album or for something else?
AJ: I mean, absolutely, I would love to get more involved in that world, if it’s composing for film or whatever it is. But look, this movie, The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, is being created as we go. It’s like a movie that’s in constant production with no final page written if that makes sense. Kind of like an Italian surrealist Bellini movie. We grew up on a lot of rock ‘n’ roll movies like The Who’s Tommy and stuff like that, that is absolutely amazing and have all these cool things. It would be really, really fun to go into that world at some point.
303: You guys attempted to throw a huge multimedia event in the past, “saintmotelevision,” but the plans fell through. Would you guys ever try to organize something like that again in the future?
AJ: Yeah, “saintmotelevision” I think lived on in a lot of different ways and in some ways, it’s influencing what we’re doing on this upcoming tour. I don’t think we’re necessarily gonna do that “saintmotelevision” show again, but it’s definitely inspired all the things we have done and what we’re currently kind of putting together.
303: In 2017, you described your music as being “escapist” and talked about your rehearsals in a “dark, windowless, sauna-like room in a seedy area of downtown Los Angeles” serving as inspiration for making music that describes where you want to be and not where you are currently. How are things different for you guys now, two, almost three years down the line?
AJ: I haven’t really thought about that. In some ways, it’s the same, but in some ways, we’re in a different place. I mean, back then, we were all broke, working like five part-time jobs and then playing music every night in our sauna-like dungeon. We were in a different place. So now that we have gas money, now are we as escapist and is the music as necessary for us to keep our sanity in that way? I’m not sure. Maybe now there’s a bit more introspection in the music where escape is not necessarily from where you are in your life but maybe more where you are emotionally. I think this album is a bit more related to the journey of where we’ve been in the past few years, too, especially with a more down-tempo balance on the album at the moment. But I still think, even back then, when I was saying we’re making escapist music, it wasn’t always escaping to the sunny island of Saint Motel, Saint Tropez. We always had a nice kind of balance, but all the songs that became bigger have always been our sunnier songs, despite whether they had kind of a nice balance of more tongue-in-cheek lyrics. I think it’s always the upbeat stuff that kind of breaks through more. So people, in general, associate that with Saint Motel. But I feel like we’ve always had a pretty wide array of the whole gamut that goes otherwise — those just happened to breakthrough.
303: So part of the reason why you described your music as escapist was because of the political climate, and during the past two to three years since you’ve said that, things have arguably gotten even crazier. Do you guys feel a responsibility to make escapist music more and more as time goes on or does it just come naturally to you guys?
AJ: I don’t feel any responsibility to make a certain kind of music and, you know, I think there’s definitely an element of absorbing what is happening around me and what I’m experiencing. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any responsibility to make anything more than what you enjoy. Because that’s really all you can do. And that’s the best anyone can hope for.
303: Back in 2017, you also noted Phoenix as being your dream collaborator. Would you say that’s still true? I mean, I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that I’d love to see that happen.
AJ: Yeah, yeah. I mean, since that point, we’ve even had the chance to meet those guys a couple of times and hang out with them at festivals. It’s still just incredible, like, the nicest guys, incredibly humble, and their shows are just always, always amazing. As far as a band that continues to push the boundaries and in their live shows and I mean, pretty incredible.
303: Do you have any other artists that you’d love to collaborate with or tour with at this point?
AJ: Yeah, I mean, there’s a ton we’d love to collaborate with — Daft Punk, Gesaffelstein, all sorts of various artists. I think we’re planning on, in the future after this album, doing a bit more. There is a pretty hefty collection of musical collaboration that we haven’t really ever put out that actually maybe sometime in the future, we’d love to do something more collaboration focused. Yeah, there’s a ton of amazing people doing amazing things that are constant inspirations.
303: As we move into the 2020s, looking back at the past decade, what are some of the highlights that stand out for you?
AJ: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny because pretty much everything, most of our major milestones happened in this decade. But at the same time, it didn’t ever really feel to me like a decade. I don’t know why that is. Like it didn’t feel like the end of the decade a couple of weeks ago, it just felt like, “Oh, another year.” It didn’t feel like one cohesive period. Like we were all over the place. In terms of milestones, there are the big ones, but then there’s — every year had its little baby steps, you know? Everything was a step towards being able to do this for a living. And I think that every year of the decade had something that we can attribute something to. You know, if it’s our first European tour or playing Coachella or getting signed, or having a song in a movie or having a song go gold or be on the radio. All these little things are constant jolts of energy — things that propel you forward, that make you think that you’re doing something that’s going somewhere rather than spinning your wheel and getting nowhere. So, yeah, it was a decade of loose bursts of goodness with a lot of counterbalance to that in terms of drops and dark periods and stuff like that.
303: Embarking on this tour, are there any tips that you can give concert goers that they should come prepared for? What do you want people to take away from your shows?
AJ: I want people to think when they walk away from the venue if they’ve seen us before, that it was the best show we’ve ever done and if they’ve never seen it before, it’s the best show they’ve ever seen. Small goal. [laughs] You know, just, you will be an active part of the show. And so come with an open mind. There will be no bad seat in the house.
Saint Motel will make their stop in Denver on “The Motion Picture Show Tour” at the Ogden Theatre on January 28th. Buy tickets here.