Indietracks interview #9: Onward Chariots

Today we’re interviewing Brooklyn-based Onward Chariots, formerly known as Chariots of Tuna. The band originally started out as Ben Morss’s solo project in 1999, before he met pop-hybrid group The Infinite Orchestra in 2008 and together they decided to form a new band. The band’s carefully constructed tunes, delicate falsetto harmonies and solid beats take in a wide range of references, from the Beach Boys and the Shins to The Decemberists and Beck.

The band are currently running a campaign on http://www.kickstarter.com/ to help raise funds for their trip to Indietracks. People can use the site to contribute a small sum of money to the cause, and in return they will receive awards ranging from a free single to having their name included in a song the band will play at Indietracks. Unless the campaign reaches its funding goal, no money changes hands. To help Onward Chariots on their way, visit their online fundraising campaign at http://kck.st/d4O6dd which also features a video of the band singing a very special Indietracks plea song!

Today we’re interviewing Ben, who has also played keyboard on albums by Cake and Wheatus in the past and also written two children’s musicals! Also in the band are Rus Wimbish (Scurvy) on bass, Shawn Setaro (Martin Bisi, Dresden Dolls) on guitar, and Dan Davine (Avenue Q) on drums.

Hello Ben! So, where are all of you from?

Hello, or, as we say here in the United States, “Buenos Dias.”

We come from a small town called Brooklyn in a distant and strange land called America, where we all grew up on farms and learned to play instruments by copying old ABBA records. Oh, and Rus was raised by wolves. To this day he has copious facial hair.

Didn’t you once have a more colourful name like “Chariots of Tuna”?

Mayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyybe.

OK – we won’t ask any more! You’re a pretty new band – how did it feel to be invited to play Indietracks?

Mostly, we just feel very fortunate! After starting this band last year and putting our first songs up on Myspace, I had a great time wandering the internet and discovering the many manifestations of indie-pop around the world. When I ran across a festival that put on pop groups in the English countryside and offered rides on vintage trains, I was quite charmed, and I wrote a friendly email saying what a nice idea I thought this was, especially coming from a country that worships the car. Imagine my surprise when I got a polite response offering to perhaps book us the next year, which is now this year.

I’m always pleasantly shocked to read a nice new review from Italy or discover that someone wants to play our music on a radio station in Spain – hopefully it means that putting effort into making nice songs can pay off!

What music are you enjoying at the moment?

Luis at Elefant Records was recently kind enough to send me a whole box of their CDs, and so I’ve been playing two Camera Obscura singles every day for the last week. When I’m not playing them out loud, they’re playing repeatedly in my head.

Indietracks takes place on a steam railway. Tell us about an unusual place you’ve played a gig in the past.

The first bands I played in were punk band, and I used to balance my cheap Yamaha keyboard on garbage cans or piles of used tires. My first band’s drummer was a local homeless man who used to fall asleep during rehearsals after the crack wore off. This band is more wholesome. We started the group right around the time my baby son was born, and I recorded the vocals to “War Hero” around 1 a.m. while holding him in the Baby Bjorn.

Do you have any surprises planned for the Indietracks festival?

You already know that we will be playing our Eardrums collaboration with Sebastian from Cineplexx. You may not know that we’ll also be playing a short song inspired by contributors to our Kickstarter campaign.

And do you have any exciting plans for the rest of the year?

Look for us at pre-Indietracks and post-Indietracks shows around the U.K, outside a lovely post office in Queens for the Make Music New York festival, at the Athens PopFest in August, and at various small places in Brooklyn.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the Indietracks festival, and why?

I’m really looking forward to seeing bands like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Standard Fare, White Town, and so many others… but honestly I’m mostly looking forward to getting a chance to finally meet all the amazing people from across the world who I’ve been corresponding with since starting this group last year!

Thanks Ben – and the best of luck with your fundraising campaign!