The Format Biography
Last updated: 05/30/2011 12:00:00 PM
you’ll get no apologies from the format when it comes to dissecting their brand of rousing, straight ahead pop music. sam means and nate ruess, the bright, prolific duo who make up the new elektra group, both barely scraping their early 20’s, have crafted a sparkling, spirited 12 song hook-laden epic that defies you not to hum along. the debut is a cocktail of diverse flavors, with emphasis on the singer/songwriting nucleus that mixes a knack for beatlesque melodies with ‘80’s styled layerings, including big fat drum machines, idyllic synths, maybe even a handclap or two. topped off with the curious title, interventions and lullabies, and buoyed by an opening salvo that is aptly titled, “the first single (you know me”), the arizona natives are anything but coy about the musical road map that brought them to this point. for lack of a better term, you can call their unique amalgam of words and music: desert pop. “we love all kinds of music,” says nate. “we had been in a few other bands together which always seemed to get bogged down with definitions. one guy didn’t like that sound or another didn’t want to try this sound. one of the reasons we started up in the format is because we wanted to write for ourselves. wanted to write songs that lived or died on the strength of the songwriting, and not some pre-conceived notion of what music should be.” the new album celebrates that simple declaration from top to bottom. from the percolating kick of “first single,” to the snarling pomp of “give it up,” to the heart-tugging ballad “on your porch,” the ambitious disc is a virtual tour de force of musical styles. the group’s mutual influences - cat stevens, the beatles, (even paul mccartney’s ram says sam) james taylor and many more shine further light on the process of their song-crafting. sam and nate each testify to plenty of late night writing sessions, acoustic guitar at-the-ready. “writing acoustically made everything easier,” says nate, who pens all of the lyrics. “we could write the way we heard them in our head,” adds sam. “we knew we could always change them up and fill them out, if needed, if we ever got to the recording stage.” just such a path emerged a little more than a year ago when the guys hooked up with a local musical supporter, bob hoag, who offered to lend some technical expertise to a batch of songs they had written. hoag produced a 5 song demo with the format, with one song “the first single (cause a scene)” eventually getting into the mix of a local arizona radio station. the song became hugely popular with local listeners, and the duo soon found themselves in demand as live performers, as well. by the spring of 2002, major labels were beckoning, and the format signed with elektra, enlisting producer walt vincent (pete yorn, liz phair) to work the knobs on their debut album.
“it all happened so fast,” says sam. “some times we have to pinch ourselves. but it’s been a lot of work too. we’ve been able to tour doing acoustic shows, and honing our songwriting in the meantime. to be able to flesh the songs out in a real studio and record the album fulfilled most of our dreams. we realize, at our age, what a tremendous opportunity this has been. our goal now is to just get better as performers and songwriters and hope that people connect with the music.” sam points to the above mentioned “on your porch,” as a personal favorite of his, as well as the stirring “career day.” “that song gels so nicely musically and lyrically that it hints at the potential that’s in this group for down the road. i think it showcases all our attributes.” ask nate to elaborate on some of his verses and he hesitates for a moment. “some songs you can explain and others, i don’t even know what they’re about. mostly about relationships, which can be fairly simple, or as we all know, frustrating and complex. it baffles me every day how an idea for a song comes to the light of day.” the songwriter recalls with fondness when he first fell in love with the power and pull of music, however. “we used to sit around and listen to my dad’s record collection. he loved everything from fleetwood mac to jackson brown to john mellencamp. so many of those songs have stayed with me.” even though the group wears its love for such pristine songwriters on its sleeve, nate says the duo has guarded against making their own songs too polished on interventions and lullabies. “because we’re prone to writing mostly pop songs, we wanted to leave some edges around them. one great thing about performing them acoustically is you get a nice stripped down feel to them that gave us some ideas on how to approach them when we hit the studio.” the group also survived the recording process with their sense of humor intact. any band that calls their first single “first single,” is winking at the stuffiness of the music business in general. “we never take ourselves too seriously,” says sam. nate agrees: “it started out as a joke, that title, and then we just decided to keep it. i’m not big on naming songs… i like to let the music speak for itself…i can’t name any of the song titles on my favorite albums. i wanted to call it the first single because at the time we had no expectations for ourselves or the song and i thought it was catchy. so i just thought the title was fitting for a song i would never expect to be on the radio.”
and what about the band’s name – the format? is that also a jab at the industry’s proclivity for same-sounding solutions when it comes to the quest for the ‘big hit.’ “well, we have two answers for that,” says nate. “the real answer is we didn’t think our sound fit any one particular format, so why not have fun with it.”
and the made-up answer?
“we tell people we had a sick friend named matt and we went to visit him at the hospital… at the same time we were looking for a band name… and we just happened to be discussing it when writing on his card at the hospital gift shop.”
the format "interventions and lullabies" / available
the format "ep" (red) / available
v/a "light of day" / available
the format "ep" (brown) / available
v/a "mtv advance warning" / available
v/a "the edge acoustic" / out of print
the format "ep" (orange) / out of print
v/a "a desert extended" / available