New Mexico by-way-of Texas psych rock trio Mirror Travel was born out of a high school friendship between Lauren Green and drummer Tiffanie Lanmon.
After several years and lineup changes, and having generated a buzz under the moniker Follow That Bird, the group renamed itself Mirror Travel to signify a new chapter in their musical journey. Armed with bassist Paul Brinkley, they released their debut full-length, Mexico, in 2013.
With its second and latest album, Cruise Deal (out 3/11 via Modern Outsider), Mirror Travel trades some of the uptempo, garage-y vibes of its previous record for a dynamic mix of sun-soaked psychedelics, desert folk, and dreamy, crushing, Disintegration-era Gothic rock. Recorded primarily in a storage unit-turned-studio with Rory Taylor (known for his work with Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin, among others), with another two tracks (“Aasim” and “Yesca”) recorded with Aaron Bastinelli at Big Orange in Austin, the album offers a snapshot of a band in the midst of transition as two of its members grappled with the idea of leaving town. Soon after the album’s completion, the group did scattered across the country, only to reconvene in New Mexico with new bassist Meredith Stoner.
She Shreds caught up with Mirror Travel to learn more about Cruise Deal and life after Texas, although they’re heading back soon for SXSW where, among other things, they will play at She Shreds’ Day Party at Hotel Vegas on 3/16. Later this spring, they band will release a limited-edition 10” in Europe through Anton Newcombe’s (Brian Jonestown Massacre) label The Committee to Keep Music Evil before launching a full US tour.
Check out our interview and exclusive album premiere of Cruise Deal below.
At what point did you decide to reinvent yourselves from Follow That Bird to Mirror Travel?
Lauren Green: We did it about three or four years ago, we had such a long history. Tiffanie and I had played as a two piece and throughout the years we had a few different bassists, including Paul Brinkley who is now in Philadelphia. We had wanted to change the name for a really long time, and get away from a lot of the Sesame Street references and questions. Also, we had outgrown the name. It had so much history and so much associated with it that we didn’t identify with it anymore, either sound-wise and feelings.
Tiffanie Lanmon: I would say it was also musical. Not that we had been all over the map necessarily, but we definitely had a certain sound in the past.
Place seems to be a factor in your albums, whether it’s songs about Mexico, or the fact that Cruise Deal was recorded right before you left town. How do your surroundings influence your music, whether it’s the legacy of Texas psych, the landscape, or anything else?
LG: I would say it is huge lyrically and musically as well. Mexico follows some stories of touring and travel and things like that, and I was in Marfa for some of that time and we recorded in Marfa. So the sound kind of reflected that, and the same with Cruise Deal because we were all kind of scattered. I think the inspiration was drawn from a few different locations and landscapes.
You worked with Rory Taylor on Cruise Deal and recorded [much of] Cruise Deal in your practice space. Was it a storage locker that you used as a practice space, or a building that had been re-oufitted as rehearsal rooms?
LG: It was a storage unit that was re-outfitted as a practice space. It was two rooms and they separated a practice area with a two-way glass partition so you were able to record in there. And there’s a lounge and a couch area in there.
TL: It’s pretty amazing. We rented it from this couple who had a band for a long time. They’d had that space for ten years. The husband had recently passed away, but that was his life. He spent all of his time making this place into a viable practice and recording studio. When he passed away [his wife] held onto it and was ready for someone else to take it on. We really lucked out. It was like a dream. It was fun to see how it did work as a recording studio. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty cool to see what they had achieved.
LG: It was in a U-Haul storage area, so the guy next to us had deadly snakes in cages and lawnmowers and stuff, and then there was a practice space. It was funny.
Did you ever get weird traffic coming through there, or people who didn’t expect to see a band there?
TL: Not really. There was another band we’d see when we drove in. It was a 7-piece band and it was really awesome, but the snakes were probably the wildest things we saw. The guy did water purification but in his office, as a hobby, he also collected exotic snakes.
Maybe it’s from being recorded in two different sessions, but one thing that is cool about this record is that while there are a lot of commonalities between the songs there are also a lot of different moods.
LG: Yeah, I think this album was a lot moodier than Mexico in the general length of the songs and the dynamics, and more open space and more room for breathing. “Melt You” is a song that doesn’t belong on Mexico but it is more in that vein. I feel like that was the last song we were working on, which maybe shows.
It sounds like kind of a “goodbye” song.
LG: Yeah, it is actually. It was written when I was living in Marfa and going back and forth between loving the landscape and the people, but not necessarily wanting to be there and not necessarily wanting to be in Austin, either.
It’s hard to be in limbo. What prompted you to leave Texas? If “Melt You” is a goodbye song, is the whole record a bit of a goodbye?
LG: I didn’t really think about it that way, but I can see that. This album was done before I moved and before Tiffanie and Meredith came to town. We were switching lineups and scenery, the whole deal.
TL: Yeah, it was interesting because when we recorded it, a lot of the mood changes seem to be coming from the fact that we had Lauren who knows that she wants to go and is deciding where. Then there is Paul, who wasn’t really thinking about leaving and then he was about to move somewhere really different. At that time I thought I was going to stay [in Texas]. So everyone was kind of recognizing that, thinking we were going to live in three different places and just try to make that work. There are a lot of emotions on here about coming and going. It was also written across spring through winter and then the other side of it. You’re on point with saying there are a lot of different emotions going on. All of the songs all go together because they are from a specific time, but there are a lot of different feelings happening within them.
You were writing this record and picturing yourselves living in different states, but now you’re all in the same place again. In the digital age there are more bands doing this cross-country kind of set up. How did you ultimately decide that that wasn’t the best decision for you?
TL: It kind of came organically. We were prepared to write remotely over long-distance, and then just get together when we could. Meredith and I knew we wanted to move outside of Austin, but were thinking hill country outside of Austin. Then we came to visit Lauren last February, and as we drove away we knew we wanted to live here.
Meredith Stoner: It was more of a life decision than a band decision and the beauty of it is that it ended up really benefitting the band, but that wasn’t the intention. That’s kinda great. Life is full of surprises, and good ones.
Austin is a city that musicians move to every day. You could say the same about Portland or New York, or wherever, but by the time you moved away you’d been there for so long that it was an old game for you. What is it like now, living somewhere without the constant hum of a city that is a total music hub.
LG: I think it’s great, and going back to what you are saying about bands being spread across the country and still being able to communicate and working remotely through the Internet. We’ve realized we don’t have to be playing a show four days a week or whatever. It’s been really fantastic for me to live out in a smaller place with a lot of close mountains and things like that, writing wise and for inspiration. The stuff we’re writing I really like. It’s really different. It feels a little more organic.
Is the new material in the same vein as Cruise Deal or are you moving into new territory?
TL: I have a feeling we’re going to still sound like Mirror Travel, but it’s starting to sound a lot heavier, actually. Cruise Deal is heavier than Mexico and where we are going is heavier still, and that’s really exciting.
MS: It was very unconscious. We just started playing together and see what happens. We’re all just going with it. It was interesting that a heavier sound was coming out of us all playing together.
LG: Yeah, and it’s been interesting playing with Tiffanie for so long, with me on guitar and her and drums, but now there is much more openness and experimentation, with me playing drums and her playing guitar. It could translate to live performances or not, but it is nice to have a new perspective on songwriting.
Thinking about experimentation, what are your favorite pieces of gear for getting these heavy, reverb-soaked sounds? What advice would you give to musicians who are interested in exploring these areas in music but don’t know where to start?
LG: I am a huge nerd about watching a lot of YouTube videos. You can learn so much without even having to try it out. Or you can go to a pawn shop and just buy something and mess around with it. But I really like EarthQuaker [Devices]. Those pedals are awesome as far as reverb and stuff like that goes. I’m also a huge fan of DeArmond guitars. I bought one at a pawnshop in Portland for $70, and I switched it out for another guitar I was playing that was a little pricier. It just has this sound, this deep tone that I love so much. I’m a fan of mixing new and old, and things like that.
MS: I just bought an MXR pedal with direct input, with a preamp and distortion in it. The reason I bought it was that I’m an obsessive person, and I obsess over sound. We have all of these SX shows coming up that are all backlined, which is great for room in your car but it’s so unpredictable when you are trying to get a really precise sound. I bought the pedal to calm my nerves around that I will have a lot more control. It’s just a beautiful pedal.
TL: It has an equalizer on there, you can play with distortion or clean. If you can only get one pedal it is a really great pedal to have.
MS: You can record on there too. I think they just came out with another generation of it. It’s even getting better.
That backline situation is something a lot of people don’t realize about a big festival like SXSW, where there is so much action that sometimes bands are playing three times a day. Do you like that kind atmosphere, or does it give you more nerves about performing?
TL: This year it feels really exciting.
LG: In previous years we’ve been excited to play at SX, but living there is hard when the festival is coming because you’re still living your life, doing all of this festival stuff, and then going to work the next day. This time it feels like a big vacation. We are really excited to see who else we’re playing with, to sit back and watch what happens, and discover. We’re playing with people we know so we’d be at those shows anyway.
MS: I think it will be really inspiring to play with such talent. I’m looking forward to that. So I’ll risk the nerves and lack of control for that.
As Texas natives, what are you looking for the most when you’re back in town? What is the one tip you’d give to musicians coming for the first time to play the festival?
TL: Transportation can be tricky for some people, but I would say that if you’re able, to get out of town for one day. Just drive 30 minutes west and just enjoy the beauty of the Texas country. It’s really marvelous, especially during the spring. And Austin is getting an early spring this year so there should just be flowers and green trees everywhere.