You think Ivy League or tennis rackets when you see the word ‘Princeton,’ but the Eagle Rock-based band isn’t named after the school. The fact that twins Matt (a one-time L.A. RECORD writer, too!) and Jesse Kivel, Ben Usen, and David Kitz made some songs about famous dead writers has only fueled more crazy assumptions that they’re both creative and smart. It can only help them get girls, which means heartache, which means more material to translate into their signature string-and-synth pop. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
You’ve been tagged as a literary band since the Bloomsbury EP was about early 20th-century intellectuals. How would you compare the experiences of books and music?
Matt Kivel (bass/vocals): Looking at a painting of a mountain—a photo, a film, all of a mountain and writing a song or book about a mountain—they can describe the same thing but the beauty of these different mediums is they do it in different ways. What’s interesting is you can convey nuances of the same object using different mediums. In music, melody and mood and texture create a much more immediate reaction in a person’s mind. You can feel a certain way and you don’t have to think about it. That’s one of the greatest things about music. When you read a book it takes a lot more of you. You have to put more of yourself in it—into the characters. When a book is made into a film it’s always a surprise how that person visualized the character. Another difference is with music—if you enjoy it you wanna experience it over again. A book, I maybe feel like reading it once or twice, but it isn’t something I wanna spend a lot of time with. Actually I don’t think there’s anything similar about them at all. The overlap is all superficial. You can cover the same terrain, the same theme, but the overall effect and the way the medium transports the person is different and that’s what makes both of them relevant art forms.
Bloomsbury was inspired by the writers, but what book would you like to make a soundtrack for?
Matt Kivel: That sounds like a neat idea. I think the best way to go would be to do something a little more poetic so you could have lyrical inspiration to draw from. Who would be good for that? John Cale did something like that with Dylan Thomas—it was poems and prose. Jesse says American Psycho. I would do The Sound and the Fury if I had a large enough budget. There’s a lot of complexity to it and lots of perspective and that would be fun to make a soundtrack about.
What was the last fight you had with your brother Jesse?
Matt Kivel: That’s easy because it was a day ago. We’re getting some shoes and then what happened was basically me and Jesse have some side projects and I took a photograph at a site that Jesse wasn’t planning that I’d know about. And so we had a big argument about that and it lasted for a while. Not very interesting but we fight often enough. [And they do a little, before this interview is over.]
The whole band grew up in Santa Monica. Were you always friends?
Matt Kivel: Jesse, Ben and I were good friends growing up—but we did know of David. We were friends with his sister because she was in our grade. He was in the same Hebrew school and high school as us, except not elementary school, so we go back pretty far.
Are kids that grow up in Santa Monica saved from the ‘born and raised in L.A.’ affliction?
Matt Kivel: A lot of wealthy people live in Santa Monica and a lot of those kids are raised a certain way. In Hollywood—also wealthy—the kids are raised a certain way. Then there’s the ‘less wealthy.’ The wealthier kids’ influence is pervasive. They’re noticeable. It draws very strong distinctions at school. But it’s not necessarily a personality thing. There are dicks and nice people and that’s the way it is. I think Hollywood and Santa Monica might as well be the same place. People who grow up in Los Angeles usually go from one extreme to another.
How did the environment influence what you do now?
Matt Kivel: When we were young, me and Jesse weren’t that interested in being in any form of scenes or cliques. We were really wrapped up in imaginative ideas and we’d get our friends to do elaborate projects, whether it be film or music or making up some game. There was a strange sort of reality that in a way has carried on. I think it’s become more socially accepted for us to do it now. We found a way to make it more socially accepted that when we were younger was considered weird—doing strange projects at our house. Like getting wasted, there were a lot of drugs and alcohol in our school and parties and things but for whatever reason we were not really a part of that. Although Ben and David were definitely more a part of that!
Did you decide to do a Hannukah concert this past December to balance out all the Christmas shows?
Matt Kivel: Yo La Tengo does a Hannukah show so that’s why we thought it was a good idea. They do it so successfully every year. They were inspirational. There’s a lack of overt Judaism in rock music. We’re a band that is not particularly religious but culturally we are Jewish so it’s interesting to try and talk about that. People in the type of music we do, it’s something people don’t talk or think about. We like holidays. We did a Thanksgiving show one year but that was borderline offensive so I don’t know if we’ll do that again. We did a Halloween show. We’ve done all kinds, come to think of it. We like to celebrate the holidays and somehow integrate that into what we’re doing. It’s festive!
Not being religious, how would you describe what it means to be Jewish?
Matt Kivel: I can’t tell anyone why it’s important to be Jewish or any religion. I am not that attracted to the idea of religion. The Jewish religion is unique because it’s more cultural—it’s like an ethnicity. Most who identify with Judaism identify it that way. We have a distinct culture and influence and that’s something important to identify with. It’s unique. Everyone is raised in a household, with traditions, things you don’t think about, it’s part of your life. We enjoy certain elements of our culture and we’re not ashamed to eat bagels or anything like that. I think the world has had its up and downs with Jewish people but deep down I think they like us.
Cocoon of Love has been described as a collection of memory bits from past romances. Based on what you’ve experienced, what do you know about love?
Matt Kivel: Man, these are some profound questions. I think I have been in love one time in my life and that’s really all that I know about aside from watching films. It’s an interesting point because in those art forms there’s a perfecting of reality—that love can have this quality where it’s unambiguously positive or negative. But the truth is that love is a totally ambiguous emotion. It can mean so many things and have so many conflicting emotions in it. ‘Love’ is a word that may not even be a good word for people to use. The word is fine, but the connotation implies something that is not even real: ‘Love that lasts forever.’ I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. It’s not a sad thought, but we should think about it. If you will be married for 50 or 60 years, people get old and ugly and lose limbs and get growths on their eyeballs—it’s hard to keep loving someone. I am not saying you shouldn’t get married, but the idea that marriage should last forever is a strange thing. It doesn’t really make sense. Society sees it as a rule. Divorce is still seen as something negative. —But I am young. I don’t know anything. I’ve had one meaningful relationship. Can you ask me in 30 years?
For something less profound, what’s the best bodily function to make jokes about?
Matt Kivel: Ha! This is the most candid interview I’ve ever done. Obviously farting would be the number one bodily function to make jokes about. [Brief argument with brother.] The other people in the van are trying to censor me. It’s funny because it makes a funny sound and it stinks. Especially in an environment where it’s almost impossible.
PRINCETON IN RESIDENCY EVERY MONDAY IN FEBRUARY AT SPACELAND, 1717 SILVERLAKE BLVD., SILVER LAKE. 9 PM / FREE / 21+. CLUBSPACELAND.COM. L.A. RECORD PRESENTS PRINCETON WITH CASXIO, RAFTER AND THE JUBILEE SINGERS ON MON., FEB. 8, AT SPACELAND. PRINCETON’S COCOON OF LOVE IS OUT NOW ON KANINE. VISIT PRINCETON AT PRINCETON-BAND.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/PRINCETONMUSIC.