Time is a luxury that up-and-coming bands don’t have, so after spending a year and a half recording its debut, last year’s Wonder Age, Denver’s Air Dubai wasn’t going to drag out the process for its follow-up. Its seven members packed their bags and headed to California for three weeks where, in a creative flurry, they polished up their latest, Day Escape. Before the hip-hop act’s headlining show Nov. 19 at the Fox Theatre, singer Jon Shockness spoke with The A.V. Club about the process, growing as songwriters, and landing a track in an episode of Jersey Shore.
The A.V. Club: How did the trip to California help get you recording so much more quickly than you did on your last album?
Jon Shockness: [Producer] Sylvia [Massy] was like, “I just want you to sit (in this practice room she had for us) and write two songs a day.” We wrote for a whole week, two songs a day for a whole week.
AVC: That had to be tough, writing that many songs so close together.
JS: It was kind of a songwriting boot camp. [Laughs.] But it turned out for the better. Because we live so far apart from each other, all of us live in Denver and our drummer lives in Greeley, and with school, it’s kind of hard to get together. We’d never really spent that much time writing together in a short span of time. It was a good experience to see what we could do. We definitely did hash out two songs a day, even if it wasn’t a completely new idea, like, “Let’s fix this idea we had yesterday.”
AVC: Did that process force you to fix problems with songs rather than throwing them away to meet your quota, and teach you follow-through as songwriters?
JS: For me, I am that kind of songwriter that won’t be able to write two songs a day. Our guitarist, Lawrence [Grivich], he always has ideas, like straight out. When he gets the idea, I’m really quick on lyrics, but I’m not quick on writing the instrumental composition of it. It was a testament to all of us working together. It was like, “Let’s sit down and get these two songs a day done for ourselves and for the process.”
AVC: With seven members in the band working on songs at the same time, was it ever difficult to come to come to a consensus when working under time constraints like that?
JS: Usually, problems like that arise at the very end of the songwriting process. It’s usually like, “Let’s try this with the bridge.” While we’re writing the song, we’re pretty open about what we want to hear and what we don’t. We know what we’re going for as a group, as a cohesive sound. It’s pretty easy to put seven people in a room and get the song written, but also there are little tweaks that will need to be made. Usually it’s the tweaks that are like, “Awe, fuck. I really wanted this to happen.” Then you realize it’s for the better of the song, and you just let it go.
AVC: Do you think collectively you grew as songwriters during your songwriting boot camp?
JS: Yeah! Even with the songs we’re writing now, we started writing songs for the next project right after writing for Day Escape, and even some of the songs that we worked on in California that we didn’t get to record, we’re writing now. I can’t really speak for anyone else because it is seven different people writing for one thing, but personally as a lyricist, I think Day Escape was a step up for me. I think whatever we do next, I think I’m getting better at writing.
AVC: It seems that being hip-hop band with a live band, you’re constantly drawing comparisons to The Roots or, especially because you’re from Denver, The Flobots. How do you feel about those comparisons?
JS: Both bands are sweet in their own right. I’ve heard comparisons from everyone from Roots and Flobots to Gym Class Heroes. I’ve even heard Incubus, all types of stuff. I personally don’t pay too much to comparisons, just because everyone will have their ideas like, “Oh, you sound like them,” or, “This song sounds like a song my cousin Ray-Ray made in eighth grade.” You can’t really base too much on what people think you sound like.
AVC: A while ago, your “Warm Days” was included as background music in an episode of Jersey Shore. What was that like?
JS: MTV approached us and was like, “Do you want to send us some of your songs?” Definitely. I think it was cool. It’s definitely a good opportunity for us to be a part of that. We kind of treated it as a joke. We’re on Jersey Shore. It’s not the highlight of our musical career. It was just one of those things. I think right now, MTV still has our music, so they could put it on 16 And Pregnant or something. It’s pretty cool, but not too big of a deal for me.
AVC: Bands often talk about how they’d never let their music be used in a show like that. Can they even make that prediction until they’re given an offer?
JS: I’m the kind of person who loves reaching new people and seeing where our music could take us and where we could go. It would be like your job offering you a raise and you’re like, “No man, I’m good. I want to stay in this shitty position at this shitty job.” See where you could go with your music. I think people have this mindset like, “Oh, you’re becoming a mainstream artist,” or, “You can’t stay underground forever.” That’s not why I got into music. I didn’t get in to be a mainstream artist. I didn’t get in to be an underground artist. I got in to make music and have it be shared.
AVC: A lot of other musicians probably just mistakenly assume that by that kind of placement on television or getting signed to an independent label that your life is immediately changed from it.
JS: We’ve had discussions about even if we do get picked up [by a label], we don’t want anything to change within our band and our sound. I feel like once we get picked up, that’s when our band will really start. That’s when we need to start working harder to prove that we are that band that deserves the recognition.
AVC: A lot of unsigned bands seem to view getting signed as the ends to all their struggles, where it’s usually really the beginning.
JS: If we’re fortunate enough, we’ll keep it trucking. Even if we’re not picked up, we’ll keep it trucking.