Triptides :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Glen Brigman, the lead singer and multi-instrumentalist of the Southern California band Triptides, has been dabbling in variations of adjacent genres throughout the band’s nine album tenure. The band, and Brigman, continue to gracefully evolve from their bleached surf rock roots, through their wandering psychedelia breadth. Now, fresh off the heels of last year’s melodic, Heartbreakers-esque release So Many Days, Brigman draws from our collective past, both literally and sonically, to craft Triptide’s most recent LP, Starlight.

On Starlight, Brigman strings a swirling Farfisa/electric piano pulse throughout eleven glittering tracks that only seem to underscore the record’s aesthetically appropriate title. His muzzy vocals lilt atop melodies that ring familiar, yet bitterly elusive, serving as a nostalgic backdrop tantamount to that of a night sky: the glinting piano backing wistful lyrics as a psych guitar abruptly rips through the expansive black. Echoing the timelessness of Stereolab, the bare-boned softness of Galaxy 500, and the psych-pop of Broadcast, Starlight calls out from a decade you long for, but never corporeally experienced.

We caught up with Brigman at the Crestline Café, in the San Bernardino mountains, where he and many Los Angeles ex-pat artists have flocked to call home. Having only just played a warm-up at the local rustic watering hole, The Stockade, Triptides are on the eve of their European tour. | k bigley

AD: So you’re about to do the European tour, what has been your experience playing internationally in the past?

Glen Brigman: Europe and the UK have always been good to us. I think when we get over there, people are generally happy that we traveled such a long way; we’re importing some vibes they don’t usually get. We’re these California guys playing music, the kind that can’t organically sprout and grow in the same way in Europe. And unlike the States, where we’re over-saturated with music and culture, inundated with new bands every day, I think Europeans feel like they can be more loyal to a band. Like, we played a show in Oslo in 2017, and I know people from that show are going to be at this upcoming Oslo show. And the venues treat you well; you get a place to stay compared to just a drink ticket.

AD: When you released Azur, it seemed to fit into the surf-influenced indie that was prominent throughout the past decade (Tijuana Panthers, Real Estate, Allah-Lahs). How does a southern kid from Georgia end up connecting with and playing that genre of music?

Glen Brigman: I definitely grew up listening to The Beach Boys on the radio, hearing them on FOX 97 in Atlanta. My dad was born in ’48, so those were his teenage years; listening to “Surfer Girl” at the high school dance. He went and saw them live when I was four. They were doing like, “Kokomo” at some outdoor amphitheater in Atlanta where you brought your own fried chicken and beers.

But for me, hearing those surfy songs, I gravitated toward them earlier and later. Then, of course, you get into Zeppelin and the Beatles, but I think right around when I was 18 there was that big indie rock boom: Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, Spoon, Deerhunter was from Atlanta. The Whigs, who basically went to the same high school as me, a trio making garage music. I didn’t even know who The Replacements were at the time. But slowly absorbing all of that stuff, I started to feel like, okay garage is easy enough: easy to write songs, weird lyrics, guitar-based drums. Then, I heard Girls’ Album, then Real Estate, and I was like, “What is with all of this surfy, single-coil Mustang, reverbed rock?” That was probably the germination.

So I go to college, I’m at Indiana University. You’re in the middle of the country, playing surf music… I guess it’s just different. It stands out. And we kind of, initially, rode this surf revival, but we morphed over time into a ‘60s psych Pink Floyd thing, then ‘80s Cleaners from Venus, lo-fi, Smiths-y new wave. Finally, I moved to Crestline, so we have our Neil Young tribute record with So Many Days. But it’s ever-evolving.

AD: Flowing from Azur to Visitors, there was definitely a stronger embrace of psych. Then comes Alter Echoes where you have a departure, and a greater departure with So Many Days, a very Neil Young/Tom Petty feel. What changed? Was it just the move to the mountains, or did you generally feel that you were falling out of that sound?

Glen Brigman: I think Alter Echoes was really Beatles/Byrds influenced, which was coming off the Visitors stuff. But it was less 60s, trying to be more modern, while still maintaining the retro feel. Then comes So Many Days, and you have the obvious mountain feel there.

But actually, Starlight, our new record, was recorded before So Many Days, so it’s closer to Alter Echoes. I don’t why but I was playing a lot of electric piano, listening to a lot of Stereolab and a lot of Brazilian ‘70s Rhodes and wurli, funky stuff. Stevie Wonder, for sure.

AD: Yeah, I think I wrote something down very similar. Starlight overall gave me the feeling of Kevin Parker fronting a Stereolab record. I think it’s the mixing of the vocals, the drums are decidedly different. There’s a more complex, bossanova thing going on. How did you arrive at that sound? The keys, specifically.

Glen Brigman: I think we’ve always tried to incorporate keys as an overdub. If you listen to Afterglow, Visitors, and Alter Echoes, you get a couple Farfisa-driven songs. Most of the time it acts as a layer when I’d want to add a ‘60s color, or electric piano for an interesting quality. Finally, I was like, “I’ve been playing a lot of guitar over the past ten years. Why not write on the keys?” Instead of thinking about it as an extra component, why not make that the meat and potatoes of the song? And if, at the end of the show, the guitar takes over, well that’s fine. But I think it’s nice that the keys ended up doing a lot more.

And I played a lot of keys in different bands: Levitation Room, Creation Factory (which was just organ), but not as much in the Triptides catalog. And So Many Days was nice, especially during Covid and post-Covid, because it was easy to just show up with an acoustic guitar, a bass and drums, knock out the tour, and have fun. But we’re at the point now where we want to go full production quality. So, it helps that we flipped the order of the record release, Starlight releasing in 2023, since we’re mostly back to live show normalcy. It feels like we can bring all this gear and there won’t be the threat of a cancellation.

AD: Moving further into the record, “Never Asking Why” might be my favorite track. It feels like a demented, yet sweetly melodic “Palisades Park.” Can you tell me about writing that song?

Glen Brigman: I think we had just opened for Durand Jones and The Indications; a soul band I went to college with. I was listening to a lot of soul stuff. I was like, why don’t we do a simple pop tune that’s that classic ‘60s, “Groovin’” type thing, then trip it out with the Leslie vocals… I like that song because yeah, it has all of those trippy instruments, but it’s just a nice song. There’s no part of that song that is too psych or space: verse, chorus, little interlude, verse, chorus, ending.

AD: I was kind of waiting for something like a weird bridge, but you keep it sweet. Which feels indicative of the record’s balance throughout. Never, at any point, does it feel impatient or that you need to fill the space with exploration.

Glen Brigman: I always feel like you should be able to sit at the piano, or pick up an acoustic, and play the song and it should sound like the song. It shouldn’t rely on too much other stuff. And while it’s cool to have all of these other elements coming together for a crazy mashup – I like to sit down at a piano and play the song, and for you to recognize that song.

But I also feel like, the Stereolab thing, utilizing the Farfisa organ gives it an older quality while echoing the future. We mixed it on tape, so it hopefully sounds just as high quality. But Stereolab is a band that has always felt like they were drawing from a time machine, while not being beholden to that idea.

AD: Talk about time, specifically. I felt like time was manipulated with this record. Tonally, it kind of conjures Pynchon/PTA’s Inherent Vice-Los Angeles projected atop Tim Burton’s Scissorhands suburbs.

Glen Brigman: Yeah, for sure, there’s a Licorice Pizza vibe in there. When you make this music, you draw upon all of your interests and influences, while not being strict about it sounding ‘60s, ‘70s, or modern. Most everything I write, I’m not concerned with when or how it needs to come out, or that it has to be relevant and “important.” Stereolab came out in the ‘90s, and yeah there are some production elements that feel a bit ‘90s, but it’s mostly timeless. There are timeless ‘70s bands. I think it’s fun when people play with the illusion of time. It’s a good exercise that is so anachronistic to our own time: pull in elements that don’t seem to make sense, then make them click and work. And it might come down to just loving the sound of those instruments. Perhaps it’s just the way my brain works.

I had a friend send me a message after listening to the record, saying, “I feel super nostalgic and I don’t know why.”

AD: Are you feeling nostalgic?

Glen Brigman: I’m a nostalgic guy, so was my dad. He’d reminisce about the past and get misty-eyed, then act tough and forget about it. I think it’s inherited: a love for what has come and gone, and what will be gone forever but live on in memory. But, with time being an illusion, maybe we’re nostalgic for stuff we never fully experienced because we did experience it in some way.

I want there to be an experience drawn into every song, like I’m the master of this subject even if that subject is nonsense. And if someone takes a specific experience away that wasn’t what I intended, that’s fine. It’s subjective, which makes it universal.

AD: So, you moved into the San Bernardino mountains. How has that impacted your songwriting?

Glen Brigman: Well, I have room to record. I have room for drums, room for a tape machine, amps, keyboards. That’s what inspired me in college. We had a janky old house filled with “rock things,” and it’s good to go back to that. I think living in LA without those luxuries, it influenced how I wrote, I used drum machines… there’s a different feel when you’re bedroom recording. Now, it’s almost a studio, which gives me a different sense of importance. Not that the music is “important,” but that everything I do can be released, which makes me work differently. Even on the demos; because demos are only demos until you decide they are not.

AD: You played The Stockade in Crestline last week. I was there, firsthand, to observe a group of “mountain bros” approach you, and they were genuinely effusive about your set. Which, maybe this isn’t the usual target audience, or those who’d normally be in attendance at a Gold Diggers show. But how do you feel about your integration into a small mountain community?

Glen Brigman: It’s been really nice. I’m not the kind of guy who walks around and is like, “Yeah, I’m in a band. I’m pretty cool.” That kind of thing reduces you to a cartoon character, it’s very one-dimensional. I work at some of the stores up here, if people ask me then I tell them, everyone is very supportive. We don’t play up here all that often, but when we do, everyone comes out and they bring a bunch of people. I’m getting my pants hemmed by a lady up here who was front row at The Stockade. It’s great, it’s rad. I love small towns.

And thank goodness a place like The Stockade has transitioned a bit, become slightly less rustic. Some cool people who like music have turned the tide, without trying to be overly cool or Silverlake or something. It’s still the mountain. And when wonderful, artistic things do happen, it’s like a blank palate: something cool can happen up here and we can all appreciate it, then let it go.

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