A Talk With Night Argent’s Shane Santanna

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You wouldn’t really think of the abstracted Tri Cities, WA as being a fertile area for hot new up-and-coming indie pop and rock bands, so would you believe me if I told you that it’s currently home to one of the northwest’s biggest rising stars? Night Argent is on a steady rise to the top of the independent music game, with a come-up on the back of strong singles like “Nothing More Beautiful” and well-regarded appearances at prestigious events like Warped Tour and an international Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands contest, rather than major label-bought accolades and opening slots for big-name acts.

With the band’s debut self-titled EP set for release on April 22nd, Night Argent are well-equipped to make big waves in the worlds of alternative rock and indie pop. Following in a similar vein to post-adult alternative acts like Coldplay and OneRepublic, the five-piece is notable for their gargantuan hooks and production, layered and detailed instrumentation, and emotive and powerful lead vocals courtesy of lead vocalist Chase Manhattan. The forthcoming EP is all the more impressive when you factor in that all of its songwriting and immaculate production was handled entirely by the quintet.

In advance of the EP’s release in a few weeks, I had the chance to sit down and talk to Night Argent’s keyboardist Shane Santanna to ask him more about the EP and the band’s approach to collaborative songwriting and production, among other topics.

NWMS: How does this EP differ from the version that came out a little while ago? [The EP given away on the 2015 Warped Tour.]

“The EP that we gave away at Warped Tour is pretty close to the same thing. We did reproduce some of the stuff, we went back and remastered it, and we added an additional deconstructed version of our song “Nothing More Beautiful.” It’s pretty close to the same thing, it’s just that [the Warped Tour EP] was never actually released. We only had that for Warped Tour, we only gave it to Warped Tour attendees, and outside of that, it was never actually put out for any sort of sale purposes of any kind, it was just kind of a Warped Tour exclusive.”

What do you think is going to make people gravitate towards this EP compared to other self-produced and released albums out there?

“From some of the reviews we’ve been getting, the sound is a little different from what most rock bands do nowadays. We try to express ourselves in our own sound and create something a little different from what people normally get, so hopefully it translates into the music and people respond to that in a positive light.

“I know some of our fans have known of us for years and have been hearing these songs played live for one, two years – “Widowmaker” we’ve been playing for three years – so hopefully the fact that they’re finally available will entice them to want the studio CD.”

What inspired you guys to do the whole ‘Deconstructed’ thing with “Nothing More Beautiful?” It sounds totally different from the first version of the song.

“It’s completely different from what we normally do. Our manager Mike Mowery talked to us and challenged us to do something more stripped-down, because everything we do, we spend a lot of time producing it and trying to give it a big semi-anthemic sound. With that, he really challenged us and said, “I want you guys to strip down to very basic elements of a song.

“When he first challenged us, he said to make it an acoustic song, so we took that and started off with very basic acoustic instruments, and as we did that, we started to build up on it – we try to keep everything real, but once we got to a point where we felt the vibe of the song, there were a few additional elements we really wanted to add in to change it.

“The main inspiration for it was our manager just challenging us to step out of our comfort zone and do something that doesn’t necessarily fit with our normal EP sound. The result was that, and even though it’s completely different from what we’re used to, we’re really happy with how it turned out, and we’re really glad that he put the challenge on us.”

When you’re recording your music, how often do you use physical equipment, and how often do you use a digital audio workstation?

“It depends on our recording. When we’re actually writing songs and producing it up, a lot of the time we’ll use digital everything, plugins and all that; just so we have an idea, because usually it’s faster and easier to fine-tune. But when we go to record-record the songs, we replace all of those with everything organic as much as we possibly can. Our bass player, he’s one of the most skilled multi-instrumentalists I’ve ever met. He plays like 20-something different instruments.

“For “Nothing More Beautiful (Deconstructed),” he came in with his cello and he laid down the cello part, just so we could have that raw, organic sound. We do that, we obviously record live drums for it, anytime we have any kind of distinct sound we want, we try to create that authentically – we’ve created stomps and claps, we’ve done slaps and hits onto different objects, we smack wood together, just whatever we can to make it authentic, we try to go that extra mile to record that and use that in the final product.”

What’s it like playing Warped Tour compared to normal concerts? Would you go back if they invited you again?

“Oh, we’d go back in a heartbeat. It’s a different atmosphere from what we’re used to. A lot of the times, you show up at a venue for a regular show, and there’s that house sound guy that’ll talk to you for a while, but everyone’s kinda got their own thing they’re doing. They aren’t necessarily there for the show or for the crowd, they’re there for whatever it is they’re doing that day – if it’s their normal area of work, they’re just there because it’s a paycheck, and they’re more concerned with where they’re going to be before the show or after the show.

“With Warped Tour, everyone was focused on Warped Tour, that’s the only thing that was going on. The focus being on that meant that everyone working on it behind the scenes was there for that specific reason, to make it a success, and that really translated into the quality of all the shows, the sound, the setups, and the load-ins and load-outs, everything. In addition, you had the bands. The bands there were phenomenal.

“We had these bands that some of us knew since we were kids, and they talked to us like we were equals, and for us that completely blew our minds, because we’re still technically a small-town band, and that’s how we are at heart, so being able to bump shoulders with PVRIS and just walk backstage and talk to them right after their set is just mind-blowing, so we would absolutely go back. The biggest difference between Warped Tour and our traditional shows would be that level of unison and camaraderie – everyone is there for the same reason, for their love of music, and everyone was like a friend, no one was rude or demeaning to us in any way.”

Who are some of your favorite local bands that you’ve played with?

“Some of them we’ve been playing with for a long time. There’s a band called Eclectic Approach, a local band from here that moved to Seattle. There’s another band called Run From Cover that did that too. We’ve played with so many phenomenal bands that it’s hard to pick one or two favorites.”

If you had the chance to tour the world with any three bands at all, regardless of popularity level, who would you bring with you?

“One of them that we’d bring with us based on sound and image and similarity, Imagine Dragons would easily be on that bill. We’re also big fans of MuteMath, their live show is insanely high-energy, so we would love to hop on a bill with them. Then for the third band, we’d wanna bring a local band with us – maybe Eclectic Approach. If we were able to throw them on a bill as well, might as well bring them along and show them some support.”

It seems like with a lot of keyboardists out there, your passion for your instrument is influenced either by classical music or electronic/synth music. Where do you fall on that spectrum?

“I’m pretty all over the place, so I’d definitely be both. For me, it’s very important to add the classical element and have the authentic piano sound in a lot of stuff, that’s something that gets lost a lot nowadays. You have so much going on with these synths and arpeggiators running 64th notes across the board that are all over the place, which is really cool, but you wanna stand out a little bit, sometimes it’s just a little simpler, you know? Something that’s not quite so busy.

“For me, when we sit down to really produce a song, we’ll start with the basic synth tabs and things, the things that give it that big gradual swell, and then later on after the base of the song is kind of established, I’ll go back and I’ll see where pianos fit, even if it’s just a chord or a small run in between transitions. Sometimes that’s all the piano we can add to the song, it’s just a few notes running up and down through transitions. I’m definitely inspired by both, and I respect both areas for what they are, because they’re drastically different, but they’re both insanely difficult to actually use correctly.”

What do you think was the turning point in your life when you looked at what you were doing and thought, “Okay, fuck, this is what I wanna do for a living?”

“For most of us, we kind of decided that when we were younger anyways, that we really wanted to do this. For me, I had to establish a career – I’d moved to California and I was kind of on the verge of them pushing me into this corporate career that was going to kind of seal my fate for my future, and kind of lay this path for me that was going to take care of the next 30-40 years of my life. Then I kind of had to make a decision at that point to see if I wanted to make that leap or if I wanted to leave it and then go back to music and try to do that one more time.

“After I’d talked to Chase for a while – this was when Chase was first starting the project – I decided to leap back into music and kind of start from scratch again, give it one more good shot from the ground up. I know Jeff, our guitar player, he was in school, and it was kind of the same thing for him. He was up in Yakima, he was studying, and he had to do the same thing, just leave in the middle of school and come back to do it. Zac, our drummer, he did the same thing. He was here at a local college studying to transition into a four-year university, and he jumped out so he could hop on the bus with us and take off on a short tour like right away.

“For each of us it was a little different, but it’s something we’ve always wanted since we were younger, we’ve known from a young age that this is what we want to do.”

If you ever made solo music, what do you think it would end up sounding like? Do you think it would sound like Night Argent, or do you think it would take a totally different turn?

“It probably would be quite different. The thing about Night Argent is that when we produce, our backgrounds and our individual styles are so different, that’s what creates that unique sound. Our bass player is into a lot of EDM and actually death metal too, our guitar player is into like John Mayer and your acoustic kinda music, our lead singer has a very strong classical and musical theater background, and then our drummer is really into country music, so it’s really all over the place.

“For me, I guess if I was to ever do a solo project, it would probably be more R&B-ish, along the lines of an R&B and acoustic mix, just because I like the rawness of it, I like the very basic element of it.”

Do you listen to much modern R&B? Because I know a lot of people complain that it sounds really different from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s stuff.

“I listen to part of it, but it’s definitely not the same. You think like New Edition and Boyz II Men and how that was back in the day, it’s definitely quite a bit different from what it is nowadays. Some of it I do listen to, there’s a guy named Gabe Bondoc, where most of his songs are just him and his acoustic guitar, and he’s classified as R&B. He’s phenomenal, it’s very simple music, but it’s just so powerful and emotional. When you take away a lot of the production, you can express a lot more emotion through the music, so that’s why I’m a fan of that.”

What are some other bands you’ve been really into lately that you don’t think a lot of people have heard of?

“Gabe Bondoc, as previously mentioned; I’ve been listening to a lot of his stuff lately. There’s a band that we played with on Warped Tour called Baby Baby, and they were phenomenal. Their live show was something else, it was something to behold. They were one of the most interactive bands we’d ever seen. They were great with the audience.

They combined an element of humor into their show, which, a lot of bands (us included) tend to take ourselves a little seriously on stage, so we don’t give ourselves the freedom to do that. For them, they were just there to have fun and to enjoy it, so their shows were just insanely fun to watch.”

Do you think it’s a lot harder for bands to break out nowadays because of how much music is out there in the modern age?

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword. You think of the overwhelming exposure you’re able to get now. All it takes is one really powerful song, but the problem isn’t necessarily having that one powerful song, but making sure it’s heard in the sea of masses right now. But on the flipside, you do have YouTube, you have SoundCloud, you have all these great media outlets for putting your music up, and you can post it for free, people can listen to it for free, so the exposure is obviously there, just now there’s so many outlets for getting your music heard that it’s hard to get your music heard by the right people, because now they’re so swamped with so much in the market.

“It goes both ways. I think it’s phenomenal that we’re able to do that, because for us, even if we never get to a point past where we are right now, we can do a song, we can shoot a music video, and we can post it and we can let the people that like our music listen to it on a regular basis for free without any sort of problems. It gives them easy access to it, and I think that’s what it’s all about.”

What are some of your hobbies outside of music? What do you guys do to stave off boredom while touring?

“When we’re on tour we’re normally trapped in our camper, we took a camper and renovated it with bunks and everything but we’re locked in there most of the time because we’re travelling from stop to stop, but when we do stop, we all have longboards, so we like to longboard quite a bit. We’ll take off whenever our driver is asleep and roam through whatever city we’re at, see what we can find.

“Outside of that, we play basketball together quite a bit. We play video games quite a bit as well; obviously being on the road means we have to be sitting or lying most of the time in our camper, so…”

What do you guys play when you’re stuck in your camper?

“Mario Kart is one of the popular ones, because you can link your DSes together, so we play Mario Kart, we’re like a bunch of kids in there. We also play Pokémon, a lot of cell phone games – recently there was this game called Fallout Shelter that a couple of our bandmates have been pretty religiously playing. They would stay up all night playing that, talking back and forth as they’re building new rooms and upgrading their shelters. When you have that much time on your hands, you kind of lose yourself to whatever hobby you’re doing.”

So you guys are going to be doing an EP launch party show on April 22nd, right? What can we expect out of that show?

“For that show, we’re going to add a couple new elements. We’ve got a couple new toys that we’re going to be bringing in for the show itself that’ll add to it visually. We’ll hopefully be posting a couple teasers of those coming up on our Instagram and Facebook pages, so stay posted for that, I don’t wanna give them away quite yet.

“Some of these toys have been in our wishlist for a couple years, and we managed to scrap together and get them right before the EP release. We’re still getting them programmed up, but if it works out, it should be quite the visually stunning experience if it works correctly.”

What do you see you guys doing after the EP comes out? Do you have any more new music on the horizon, are you gonna head back to the studio anytime soon, or are you guys gonna tour it out?

“It’s kind of a mix of both. With the songs, and the reason why the EP took so long to finalize, was that we don’t wanna push the writing process, we really wanna let it grow itself, so we’ll probably be focused on this EP for quite a while. We’ll shop it, we’ll tour around it, we’ll use it as our base for everything, because it really is a great example of what we are and the image of the band.

“But as far as writing goes, we actually just rescheduled a songwriting session we have with John Feldmann down in California for the middle of May, so we’re gonna hop in the studio with him and we’re gonna do a three-song writing session with him, which is incredible for us, because a lot of us grew up listening to some of the bands that he worked with, and now we go get to work with him ourselves, so that’s going to be quite a surreal experience.”

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About Jess Casebeer

NorthWest Music Scene's reviews editor and multi-genre music nerd, Jess greatly values original content that's informative, personable and entertaining. Soundgarden sits comfortably next to Squarepusher in their CD collection. They're kind of like an innerspring mattress: firm, yet comfortable in its own right. Write: jessnwms@gmail.com