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The unwavering loyalty of silversUN pickups

SSPU's steadfast devotion to each other over nearly a quarter century of band membership

Story: Thomas Crone

Photos: Claire Marie Vogel

In more than a few respects, Silversun Pickups are very much a 21st century band, formed during 2000 and essentially untouched in membership since the core group coalesced in 2002. Since then, the band’s nucleus has remained Brian Aubert on guitar and vocals; original member Nikki Monninger on bass and vocals; Christopher Guanlao on drums; and Joe Lester on keys. 


Aside from Monninger’s relatively-brief hiatus from the band a decade ago due to a maternity leave, the band’s remarkable longevity isn’t lost on anyone in the group, which maintains a career-long homebase in Los Angeles. 


Aubert initially jokes that the group’s tenure is due to the question, “What else are we going to do? We’ve got no choice,” though he opens up about the band’s life together with minimal prompting. 


 “You know, I think it’s something that you re-evaluate all the time,” Aubert said in a late-January interview. “There’s nothing conscious about it, we don’t get into child’s pose to discuss it. But when you’ve always had a thing, is it still energetic? Do you still feel compelled to do it? 


“We were friends for a little while before being in a band and so you get a lot of the personal stuff stripped out of it in a certain way,” he said. “You already know how to read each other and especially now that we’ve gotten so good at touring, you know when people need space. I say that all the time, but everybody has their role in the band. I’m going to lead it in certain ways. It’s just natural in the way that’s happened. But no one’s higher up than anyone else. And no one’s fireable, unless it was for something absolutely insane. Touring with other bands, you see some that think ‘if only we could get this other drummer.’ We don’t go into that conversation. It’s not on the table, which is probably why we’re still around.” 

Silversun Pickups

The group also has an interesting 21st century connection in that they’ve been active through pretty much all of the iterations of music that’s been released and promoted over the past quarter-century, experiencing most of the options that could come their way. Digital music’s been around since their beginning. They’ve known different record labels. They’ve had music licensed for video games and TV/film. They’ve toured as a headliner, in support and played festivals. They’ve recorded short live spots for the hip streaming channels and have offered up the occasional, clever cover. And they’ve even done something that not all contemporary rock bands can claim. 


With just a hint of amusement, Aubert said, “We do get played on the radio.” That, plus a host of other factors, have meant that the band’s been able to turn over a fan base through time, keeping long-term fans in their audience, while continuing to blend in new followers. 


Asked if folks tell him how they’ve come to know the group, Aubert says, “that some conversations happen, but the fan base’s flexibility is hard to know. When we first started to get known, it was a surprise even to us. We’ve had a healthy sort of philosophy in terms of how this is happening. And when we started, there were bands who’d been doing it a lot longer who were grumbling about how things were going, but we didn’t know anything about that.”

“We’ve had songs in video games and played “Letterman” and knew Napster, so people have found us in so many ways,” Aubert said. “Maybe they heard us playing along to us on a video game or we’re that weird band that still gets onto the radio, so it’s all about different pockets. I am very curious, having been around for so long, to look out into the crowd and see that it’s much more diverse than it used to be. The ages are all over the place. There’re teenage punk rock girls, older dudes, little kids. I don’t know when they all started listening to us.” 

Touring has always been a part of the group’s build, though, and Silversun Pickups only had the obligatory time off because of the pandemic. Aside from that stretch, they’ve been at it ever since the release of their initial EP, Pikul, in 2005. Things accelerated with the release of their debut album, Carnavas, in 2006, which featured the indie hit “Lazy Eye,” and five more albums have followed since. 


When we first started to get known, it was a surprise even to us. We’ve had a healthy sort of philosophy in terms of how this is happening. And when we started, there were bands who’d been doing it a lot longer who were grumbling about how things were going, but we didn’t know anything about that.

Silversun Pickups, Photo: Claire Marie Vogel

For 2024’s initial round of touring, the group plans to still pull from the band’s last album, 2022’s strong effort, Physical Thrills, which was produced by Butch Vig. 


“We did some pretty heavy touring on it,” Aubert said, noting that for this round “we’ll lean into it a little, not as heavily as on the previous tour. Now it’s more about weaving in and out of different eras. So there’s a lot of discussion going on, trying to figure out transitions and things. We’ll have a general flow for the set in certain ways. Some songs will change and some will stay planted.” 


That said, “our songs are long and I always loved being able to play them fully,” he said. “At festivals, we’ll talk to bands who’ve played a half-hour and done 15 songs, while we do five.” 


Working with Vig, Aubert said, was a product of circumstance. Traveling in the same musical and social circles, they struck up a friendship, and with Vig open to working together and his space available for Aubert to write sketches in, Physical Thrills came together in a relaxed, friendly, natural environment. 


“He’s always been somebody that was around our orbit,” Aubert said of Vig, who is also a member of the band Garbage. “Because he lived in an L.A. neighborhood we lived in and we had similar friends, we’d come into contact once in a while. He was always kind and nice about our band and you recognize when something good’s dropped into your lap. When he asked if I’d want to sing on a Garbage song, I went to hang out with the band and had such a good time recording with them that it left a residue in our system. We knew he was just the guy, that he would do the album and it’d be great. But we had no idea how wonderful it would be.” 


Aubert feels their work together on Physical Thrills will hold up well in the Silversun Pickups catalog.   


“I haven’t listened to it in a while,” he said. “With most bands, the most that we ever listen to a record is when it’s not done. By the time it is done, you’ve heard it a few times and you rehearse it and interpret it live. Now it’s just about swimming in the live experience of it, which is really fun, seeing how it all works in juxtaposition with the older songs. And every time a Physical Thrills song comes on the set, I’m really proud of it.”


 “I had a lot of new songs popping into my head then, and with the way the pandemic worked, even Butch was shocked at how it came together,” Aubert added. “We just got some things down, demoing them really quickly. So much came out right then. It was such a strange time to be working on things, when you’re not being a dad Zoom-schooling, just recording an hour here or there and not being too meditative about it. But we captured it all and that’s the beauty of it — with Butch there to catch it all.”

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