We have been fans of Ex Cops from the jump. The indie alternative outfit made their way to Austin this March for their second appearance at SXSW. Prior to the festival, they made headlines as the band’s founder Brian Harding released an aggressive open statement via Facebook bashing the McDonald’s corporation for not offering monetary compensation to bands playing their SXSW showcase. The red and yellow food chain soon after changed its position after receiving a fair share of hate from music lovers who took to social media commentaries with disapproval of Mickey D’s approach. While still trying to make it through their first day in Austin, Ex Cops took a quick break with us in a parking lot outside an east-side venue to talk about the art of collaborating while writing, their latest album and their experience with overcoming music industry obstacles. Brian Harding and Amalie Bruun show us that they are so much more than just musicians. They are becoming artists with purpose just by being brave enough to say, “No.”
mxdwn: Well, how’s this SX going so far? You said it was stressful today?
Harding: It’s fine. It’s been a lot better.
Bruun: I’m not complaining. This is what it’s like for everyone. I was just really sweaty in there and Brian’s guitar kept cutting out because of the sound system and no sound check, you know.
mxdwn: So you guys just got off a plane right now… Do you guys have anymore shows tonight?
Harding: One tomorrow and one the next day.
mxdwn: Since we’re here, we have to bring up the elephant in the room. Tell me about the McDonald’s drama.
Harding: It is what it is. I mean, I think we’re done with it now, hopefully.
mxdwn: From what I understand, they wanted you guys to play their showcase, but they offered you kind of a value plan versus actual compensation (monetarily speaking), so it was basically cheeseburgers and gift cards?
Bruun: No gift cards. A potential Tweet.
mxdwn: So your reaction was, “We’re not going to do that.” Is that correct?
Bruun: Our reaction was, “No thank you,” and we said that to the label. It just didn’t sit right with us, so we, well, Brian and I talked about maybe sort of writing to our fans on Facebook. Just an open letter.
Harding: Everything about it we didn’t support.
Bruun: Yeah, for some reason it rubbed us the wrong way more than usual. So, we decided to address it, and then it kind of just blew up because I guess it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in more ways than just for a band. It kind of reflected a bigger thing.
mxdwn: I saw a lot of backlash from fans supporting your stance. How do you guys feel about being so supported?
Harding: It’s great. My whole goal is that corporations from now on will be scared to not pay their artists.
Bruun: Yeah, our goal is that especially non music-related companies who just use bands to get the credibility, that they understand that they have to pay for the bands’ work and that they don’t dare pressure artists and labels into working for free anymore. You know, bands are scared to say, “No,” to corporations and, “No,” to their label because, you know, “Oh, what happens if you say no to this one?” It’s like, well, you just got to pay for work like you got to pay for a fucking cheeseburger.
mxdwn: It’s important that there’s a female element in the band and that you guys are so willing to take a stance for something you believe in. How do you feel about being a part of something like that because that is important in this generation?
Bruun: It’s just who we are.
Harding: We’re just not that apathetic that we weren’t going to sit back and let that happen.
Bruun: No, and actually, I mean we said no the whole time to playing it, and now they’ve revised. Now they’re going to pay the bands. So, we’re happy that these bands are getting paid now, and I think actually because the corporations aren’t scared of anything anymore. They don’t even have to be scared of politics or laws. They just get away with everything. But they are scared of one thing – they’re scared of bad PR. We can see that because now they changed it. So, maybe this is due that corporations are more scared of this bad PR, so they’ll start [paying bands], not because they actually have good values and want to pay for the work, but they’re too scared of the bad PR.
Harding: And I don’t think they realize or care that these kids have to ask off for work and they have to get plane tickets and fucking hotels at SXSW. And to not offer them a dime is like criminal.
Bruun: Yeah, and SX has kind of become the festival that people play if they can afford to go into debt, you know, and we have some tour support to get here now, but I mean with the corporations paying this much money to the festival, I think both the festival and the corporations should make sure that the bands also get some compensation. At least, I mean $100. The fact that it’s zero is just too disrespectful.
mxdwn: I completely agree. Do you feel like things are going better with the other showcases that you guys have booked? You guys have what, five or six here?
Harding: Yeah. I mean we got offered like two when we got here, so that was good.
mxdwn: Do you feel like because of the publicity that you’ve gained just from that experience that it’s doing something positive for you guys?
Bruun: No, I mean, as human beings – yeah. It doesn’t really affect our music or our shows. It doesn’t matter to us. We said what we wanted to say. And actually, something positive came from it.
mxdwn: Let’s move forward and talk about the music. Your music does have a youthful quality. How did your sound develop?
Harding: This particular sound developed with the inclusion of Amalie on the second record just with writing. She comes from a very strong pop background.
Bruun: Scandinavian pop. We started in the rehearsal space writing, and then we got Billy Corgan involved. We went to Chicago and took our demos there and worked on them with him. And then once we had a bunch finished, we went to another studio in LA with a producer Justin Raisen and recorded and wrote more songs. So, it’s been a year in development, this album. It’s also very thorough. Everything that’s on there, we meant every note.
Harding: We wrote the songs in like five different states.
Bruun: And countries! Some of them, I mean, there’s a song called “Teenagers.” I wrote that verse when I was like 14 in Denmark, and I just randomly brought it to New York.
Harding: And I got the chords from Charlotte.
mxdwn: Well, it sounds like you guys have a really good chemistry. What was it like working with Billy Corgan and bringing him into the mix?
Harding: It was incredible. It’s the closest to college I’ve felt since I’ve been in college. We’d start at 9am and work until about 5. It’s just regimented and good. It’s a good schedule waking up early and working really hard. And being taught! We were schooled. It was great, and we learned lessons that are invaluable.
Bruun: First of all, he has a brilliant mind; and secondly, he has a work ethic like I’ve never seen a musician have. That was a good time for us to get into that work mode, I think. He was very hands-on, very involved in everything, and very respectful of what we came with and we wanted to do. It was a life-changing experience as humans as well as musicians.
mxdwn: What’s your favorite part about the music making process?
Harding: I think we both really love recording. I’m happiest and feel the most at home in the studio. Just the surprising elements you can come up with. We did co-writes for the first time on this record with other people. Actually, she’s done co-writes before. It was a really invigorating process to see what could happen in two hours with any person coming into the studio and creating a whole new song for the album, which you didn’t even think was going to happen.
Bruun: But it was very relaxed because the people who were involved were all friends. You know, Ariel Pink was co-writing on two of the songs, and he just came by and brought a friend Don Bolles who is the drummer of The Germs. It was just like friends coming by and we saw what we could do. It ended up being two days, no three days of almost twelve hour days of just hanging out the whole day and writing and writing and writing… Like this was just friends coming together.
Harding: Yeah, like we were checking our credit scores with Ariel Pink. Nothing felt rushed or some time clock we had to get to, it was just completely very “LA.”
Bruun: The producer Justin was actually very generous with all his people in LA. To all his friends that also work in music we were just kind of like, “Do you also want to come by and see if we can do something?” All these people were incredibly talented. It was a very big amount of talent.
mxdwn: How has touring affected the process for you guys?
Harding: We’re doing a new setup. So, we just started our last tour with backing tracks, our drummer and Amalie and I. Partly inspired by 90s processes like Garbage, but also new things too. We just tried it with a full band and it just sounded too much like a bar band because the songs are so hard to reproduce with a band.
Bruun: Yeah, I would say that touring hasn’t affected the album as much as the album affected touring because we’ve done a lot of rehearsing in different setups, and we finally have found a way that works really well to support this particular record.
mxdwn: It’s really hard to translate things to the live setting.
Bruun: It is! But we also play acoustic shows, Brian and I, and I think it’s important that all songs can be played on the guitar and the piano. You know, and they can.
mxdwn: What’s your favorite part of touring?
Bruun: Coming back to the hotel. No, actually, for example, when we toured last time in the winter, we went to Kansas City. We didn’t know this, but apparently our song “Black Soap” is kind of a hit there and being played on the radio. We saw a line around the block and thought, “Who else is playing?!” Everyone in the audience knew the lyrics to this song. This love for this particular song has been very, sorry, but touching. Especially for “Black Soap” it’s like people are reacting to it in a way that I couldn’t even dream of and I feel like this is just the beginning.
Harding: Even like at SX, it blows my mind that people would change their schedules to come see us over 2000 bands. That means a lot to us that they look at a schedule, you know, call an Uber. It’s a whole process to do it and that means a lot to us.
Bruun: We don’t care about write-ups or reviews. I care so much about the kids, the fans. Those are the ones that go to shows, buy your record and they’re the ones that maybe if you’re lucky, your music means something to them. That is such a fucking overwhelming feeling.
Harding: We stopped reading reviews a long time ago. We just read fan Tweets now. That’s what we care about.
Bruun: We want to be proactive. We don’t want to be reactive. We don’t really care about other people’s reactions to us especially because there are a lot of people who have very little in their head but a lot to say and everyone’s writing writing writing. If I could give one advice to other musicians trying to be, it’s that you cannot live reactionary to other people. It doesn’t matter.