On one side, there's the easy path, the comfort zone, the formula. The other side is uncertainty, exploration and a bit of fear.
For Minneapolis indie-pop band ON AN ON, there was no question they'd strike out on an entirely new direction, leaning on a direct and visceral style, to follow up 2013's well-received debut album Give In.
"The way that we operate as a band is more instinctual," says vocalist/guitarist Nate Eiesland. "We're not cranking out the same stuff for the sake of making an album. It's casual, but a lot more immediate for us. We go about it and it becomes what it becomes. We follow what sounds right in the studio."
What sounded right for the band's sophomore album And The Wave Has Two Sides was sonic growth, in multiple directions. At turns both poppier and quieter, the record feels like an emotional journey.
"We knew we didn't want to make another Give In. We love those songs but we don't love doing the same things again and again," Eiesland says. "We went in with an open mind and essentially had to surrender to what feels good. We put ourselves in a position to be honest about what sounds good in the moment and trust that."
Just weeks after forming ON AN ON, Eiesland, keyboardist Alissa Ricci and bassist Ryne Estwing went into the studio with producer Dave Newfield (Broken Social Scene) to record Give In. For And The Wave Has Two Sides, the band headed west, to Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles to work with producer Joe Chiccarelli.
"It was a night and day, a totally different experience with this record," Eiesland says. "With Give In, we went in to studio and hadn't ever played the songs live. We went in and multi-tracked and produced something really collaborative, but weren't in the same room all playing at once. With this album, we'd toured so much and did a lot of pre-production work and playing the songs over and over and went in and recorded this album pretty much all at once. For the most part, everything was about getting four of us in the room and pushing record.
"At some points for sure it was testing our limits, but it's more fun to do this way," Eiesland says. "You're in the room feeling the vibrations of what everyone else is playing and you're getting the energy, this sonic movement of these people interacting. There's this camaraderie somehow makes its way through the microphones."
The band wrote about 40 songs for And The Wave Has Two Sides, cherry picking the ones that fit best together. The direction for the album became clear as the song "Icon Love" came together.
"That felt like 'Here's our center point,'" Eiesland says. Even though it's early on the album sequence-wise, it's us, everyone doing what they do best and we're pushing the envelope of what we do, but in a way that felt really comfortable. 'Icon Love' from the start felt like it was a bulls-eye for us and we push out from there in very different directions."
Album opener "Behind the Gun" is pensive and ethereal, positioned as a mood-altering entryway to the album. The first two singles branch out in opposite directions, and are the songs furthest away from ON AN ON's comfort zone. "Drifting" is quiet and suspenseful, guided by a ghostly acoustic guitar, with a music video that explores the boundary between dreams and nightmares. In contrast, "It's Not Over" is a big, bright dance-floor anthem, full of sexual yearning and abandon.
ON AN ON worked intently to broaden what an album can be, getting beyond the Internet-driven world of single songs.
"We're personally interested in making albums because we can say so much more," Eiesland says. "A lot of the songs were born from darker things. We work with irony so it's not all drudging through emotional mire. Sometimes we let it be heavy, but with this album we played with it a bit to see what we could get away with. Even the lighter songs came from darker stories and circumstances, but I think that lends a hopeful quality to the music."
That element of hopefulness is important for a band that's made music in the past that's unapologetically heavy emotionally. Another goal for ON AN ON with And The Wave Has Two Sides, released July 24 on Roll Call Records, was to build the album in a way that could fit better with the band's live show.
"We had a lot more defined roles going into it and a lot of this record is a live show," Eiesland says. "With Give In, it was deciding what can we do and what comes across live. There was so much going on in that album a lot of it didn't translate live. With this, the goal was to do it in a way that has immediate feel and translates live."