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Continental Q&A

What Was Gained From What Was Lost

About three minutes and 40 seconds into the second track on the new Continental record, the song hits a crucial point where its future becomes uncertain. Fifteen long seconds go by, and you have no idea whether the song will fade out or press on. Suddenly, a snare drum surge ushers in a completely new segment that holds remarkably true to the song's previous bits, but with noticeably more purpose and drive.

On so many levels, those few seconds in "August Ends" are a perfect sonic analogy for where Continental is, as August 2005, well, ends. The band kicked off its own snare drum surge Aug. 30th with the release of their triumphant return from uncertainty otherwise known as What Was Gained From What Was Lost. We'll get back to that title in a minute.

Before going any further, it's important to mention that just six months ago, Continental the band nearly ended. That's what happens when a close friend and founding member of a band unexpectedly passes away of heart failure. For several months, no one had any idea what would happen, whether Continental would fade out or press on. The band completed the new album on February 28th, just two days before bassist Brent Kimble died. Upon first listen, with all that sad and tragic retrospective in full force, one instantly realizes the band's decision to continue on validates the ethos Continental, and Kimble himself, were built on.

Instrumental rock -- along with any of its lyric-less brethren -- is a challenging and oft-misunderstood beast. Without lyrics to guide a song's narrative, composers are charged with the mission of conveying emotion and meaning solely through sound. Continental takes this concept to beautiful heights, emerging from incredibly difficult circumstances with an album that oozes hope, in the band's own words: "feeling hopeful in times of great loss."

It's important to note that the band completed all its true work on What Was Gained From What Was Lost before losing Kimble. The album's themes, artwork and even its shockingly coincidental title are the toil of men with no idea what kind of loss they were about to face. For a band whose songs ironically include very few words, the poetry here is pretty close to mystifying.

Mist, metaphors and introspection aside, Continental is most importantly (and come to think of it, unsurprisingly) a group of close friends. We met up with them in their makeshift speakeasy/garage somewhere in the Sunset. Amidst horrendously bad album covers (Lionel Richie, Warrant, etc.), the occasional hum of the N Judah and the consumption of many beers, we took stock of guitarist Craig Escalante, keyboard player Mike Eul, guitarist Matt Holt and drummer Gabriel Coan. We found Continental moving into a new chapter -- holding remarkably true to its previous bits, but marching onward, with more purpose and drive.

SF Station: Well let's start off by talking about the new record. It's definitely your best and most thematically cohesive work to date -- can you tell us a bit about what went into it?

Gabe: The record was recorded in two sessions. Daniel McKenzie from The Rum Diary recorded and mixed the first three songs at his place in Cotati ("The Cotati Sound Machine"), and the second half of the record was recorded by me and our longtime recording collaborator, Mark Panighetti from [the band] Boon Companion. The songs Mark and I did were recorded partly at Brent's parent's house up in the Salinas hills and partly at my studio.

SF Station: It's an interesting time for indie musicians -- digital recording technology is making it so almost anyone can make a decent recording without professional help. It sounds like you were all involved in the whole process?

Gabe: As far as production and direction go -- that's us. It's a five-way effort.

Matt: The guys who have been pressing play and setting up microphones, Mark and Daniel, have done a great job of saying, "Go back in there and play again because that one wasn't that good."

Mike: I think that a lot of the decisions we've made have been because we we've wanted to be able to take our time. We couldn't really afford it, and we can't ask anyone to volunteer that. Also, Gabriel does our mixing, and he still likes it.

Gabe: We're not opposed to bringing in someone to bounce ideas off of. This new album is the first Continental album that someone else mixed some of the songs. The songs that Daniel recorded, he also mixed. And obviously we think he did a great job, otherwise the songs wouldn't have made the record.

SF Station: Are you influenced by a lot of other music?

Gabe: We buy a lot of music. We talk about music constantly -- that's what we do. Someone we'll go through a phase and start buying a bunch of records related to that style of music. Craig just went through a Kraut Rock phase, and now he's in his Swedish rock phase.

SF Station: How does that play out when you're rehearsing and writing?

Matt: You can't help but bring that stuff in. What you're listening to gets processed and comes out in what you play.

Craig: It's good that we all listen to different types of music, that way we'll never sound exactly like another band.

SF Station: Let's discuss the record's closing track, "Pillow Talk". This song is new ground for you -- very airy and open to all kinds of interpretations. How'd you come up with it?

Gabe: "Pillow Talk" was an experiment from Brent's parent's place. We were in our makeshift control room listening back to a take of a song. Mike stayed out in the living room to work on a piano part for that song. There was a mic still on -- actually nowhere near the piano -- but we could hear everything he was doing. We immediately hit record and captured what he was doing.

Craig: I actually ended up recording two parts for that song. One pass was improvised noise/drone that I did by myself. Then, Matt and I did a pass together playing guitars, but Matt had the only set of headphones so I played along to Matt, who was playing along to the tape. I actually couldn't hear the track as we overdubbed the guitars.

Gabe: And that was it. That became "Pillow Talk". It turned out to be one our favorites on the record. And people outside of the band have commented that they really like that one too. That always seems to be the way things work out. The things that come quickly without too much thought are the best. And the best part is that Brent's parent's piano hadn't been played in years and was way out of tune. Eh, but really how would I know, I'm a drummer.

SF Station: What about release plans? What do you want to see happen with this record?

Matt: We would like to see this record get more attention than the last one. In the immediate future, we don't have any tours planned because I'm going back to school. Any tours would have to be on time off.

Craig: We can't really go out and promote the record and play all of the songs on it, because there's someone who's not around to play those songs anymore.

Matt: That's a really good point actually.

SF Station: Yeah… Brent's loss must be really affecting your live performance. Are there any songs you just can't play?

All: Almost the entire album.

Gabe: There are two songs that we wrote which are not on the record we were writing with Brent. And we finished them just a couple of months ago.

Mike: It's kind of awkward. We've got six songs right now and it's almost like starting anew. We spent six months putting those songs together so we could play that show.

Matt: So, we weren't in any rush to be planning any tours.

Mike: The (July 17th) Bottom of the Hill show (Ed.: the first show without Brent) was like a rite of passage for us. Can we do this? Are we ready to do it? Do we want to?

Gabe: After the show, we were getting set up to practice again and thought, 'so, now what do we do? I guess we gotta start booking shows again. Just keep on going.'

Craig: Whatever old songs we play in the future, I think we're going to be picky about. Whatever feels right, whatever feels appropriate… there are some songs where we could do it but we think, 'uh, this just doesn't feel right'. We're ok with writing more, figuring out who we are now.

Mike: He was the heart and soul of the band.

SF Station: Given that, did you think about changing the name of the band?

Matt: We felt that the music was going to be in the same vein. It wouldn't be the same without him, but it would be very similar.

Craig: Yeah and certain songs we've tried to play and can't really play them even if we wanted to.

Mike: If we can't make it as good or better, we're not even going to touch it.

Gabe: And that's ok. It's very much in Brent's spirit anyway. He was always the most reluctant to play the old, old songs. We would say hey, remember that song from the first record? Remember that song from the second record? We should bring that back, we should play that. He was always the first one to be like come on, let's just write something new... He was always thinking about the future, thinking forward.

SF Station: Let's talk about U-Dot Records. Why did you guys decide to create your own record label?

Gabe: To get our stuff out. We just said, "Let's put it out ourselves." And we did.

Mike: It was out of necessity.

Matt: Yeah, there was no question that we would put our first record out, so all we needed was a name. So we named [the label] after a bowling ball.

SF Station: That's a definite trend in independent music these days, not only putting out a record yourself, but also creating a "record label" to support it. Has this strategy helped Continental?

Matt: We go back and forth about that. At this point, though, it's a real record label with four releases.

Gabe: Yeah, it's evolved. First record, we were totally faking it, and it definitely helped. By the third record, I don't think we're faking it any more. I can show you some Excel spreadsheets that would blow your mind. Ultimately, I don't know if it's helped -- we don't try and be anything other than what we are.

Matt: We certainly don't have the kind of connections that bigger labels have but, for what we have, we've done pretty darn well. I mean, we're being interviewed by SF Station, aren't we?

Gabe: Also, we're in the red, so that makes us a real label!

All: Yeah!

SF Station: Are you planning on signing other artists?

Craig: I wouldn't rule it out but, at this point, most of our focus is going toward Continental.

Gabe: It's a big money issue and a lot of hard work. We don't really have much to give at this point. The [first] record came out in 2001, so we have five years of experience at being a label, you know, and not even doing it full time the way labels do. We grew much slower than a normal label would. So what can we do for you? We can put our name on it and help with promotional efforts. It's really just an effort to help each other.

Matt: If a band was going to put a record out themselves, why not align it with something that's already out there? And get connected to something else already out there? I can see us doing that with another band. But we're not the best promoters or marketers out there. We can barely do it ourselves, so we don't want to take on the full responsibility for someone else.

SF Station: Okay, let's get back to the album and close with some thoughts about where you're at right now. Thematically, What Was Gained From What Was Lost sounds very much like the soundtrack to Continental at this very moment. How did that happen?

Matt: The title was actually a coincidence. We decided on the album artwork in February, and based on that (particularly the peeling paint on the wall) we came up with a title that would reflect cycles of decay and renewal. The title that all five of us liked was "What We Gained From What We Lost". Which, as you can imagine, became only more relevant (and spooky) when Brent passed away a few weeks later. We changed the "We" to "Was" later… I guess [we] thought the modified title would be a little more universal instead of being specific to us losing Brent.

Gabe: When we were discussing the title and the themes around the record, we also talked a lot about the notions of loss and hope. Feeling hopeful in times of great loss (be they personal or political or whatever). And, the [album's artwork] really reflects that as well. Loss and hope. Decay and renewal. It may be strange to hear that a mostly instrumental band puts a lot of thought into the themes of their records, but we do. It is really important to us. This isn't a concept album, but the album's themes, the artwork, the title, and song titles all come from a common place and were conceived based on things we were thinking about and things that we were experiencing in our lives, shared and individually. Now, whether or not anyone picks up on the same things we were thinking, I have no idea. But of course we don't care – we want it to be personal for every listener. They should have their own interpretation and make it relevant to their lives.

Upcoming Continental performances…

Monday, September 19
Live on KFJC 89.7FM

Wednesday, September 21
@ 12 Galaxies (SF)
w/ Carta and The Decoration

Written in collaboration with Jeremy Sampson, with additional help provided by Brian Glover