Interview by Brandon Robbins
Images by Teal Thomsen
Video by Rafiki Creative
“The whole ethos of Sego is the tug-of-war between Utah
and California—cultural, geographical, musical—
and that connection has recognizably influenced me.”
— Spencer Petersen
Based in Los Angeles, Sego is the duo of Spencer Petersen and Thomas Carroll, who met in their hometown of Provo, Utah. The band has released EPs: Wicket Youth (2014) and Long Long Way From the Fringe (2015). Their debut album, Once Was Lost Now Just Hanging Around, is released via Dine Alone Records.
From Provo, Utah, Brandon Robbins is the vocalist and guitarist of The Moth & The Flame, who recently relocated to Portland from Los Angeles. The band has released their debut The Moth ⅋ The Flame in 2011, and are set to release Young & Unafraid in 2016.
Sego is a Los Angeles band by way of Provo, Utah. The duo of Spencer Petersen and Thomas Carroll has recorded two EPs since 2014 and is now set to release their debut LP, Once Was Lost Now Just Hanging Around. Written at the Cube, an art-minded warehouse space in Downtown LA where Sego lives and works, this album was assembled by Petersen from the drums, up.
Petersen describes this process and more to friend and fellow musician Brandon Robbins, who plays with Portland-based band The Moth & The Flame and originally hails from Provo as well. The two sit in a Del Taco in Springfield, Utah, eating a meal of half-pound bean-and-cheese burritos and churros.
Additionally, Sego performs “Engineer Amnesia” for us from the Cube in Los Angeles.
Spencer Petersen: Living in Los Angeles makes everyone pretty spoiled about Mexican food, so it’s almost sacrilege coming to a chain. I flinch every time I go to a Taco Bell.
Brandon Robbins: I feel like Del Taco kind of has the upper hand.
SP: At the end of the day, price point always reigns supreme. The taco truck near my house is $1 per taco, so that forces me to compare every time I’m eating elsewhere, “How many tacos is this really worth?” That’s the ultimate currency.
Are you missing Los Angeles since you moved up to Portland?
BR: Trying to be weird, you know. I do miss Los Angeles, for the food and friends mostly. I don’t miss the rent.
SP: How’s the music up there?
BR: I haven’t really delved in yet, to be honest. I know of a lot of bands that I really like from Portland, but we’ve been on the road the whole time that we’ve supposedly lived there.
SP: There was a time when I was still back in Provo, [Utah], and everyone was talking about moving to Portland. I’m not sure what explosion of culture happened there in 2007 or 2008, but I have yet to play with a band from Portland.
BR: I think we’ve played with one band from Portland, but they’re a transplant band, so I don’t know if that counts.
SP: Same with Los Angeles. No bands are really from Los Angeles.
BR: How long have you been in LA now?
SP: Six years
“Initially, my whole premise was to
write songs for someone else to sing.
But I ended up recording demos
and got a lot of good responses.”
— Spencer Petersen
BR: That’s long enough to be “from LA.”
SP: We formed in LA, but it would be inauthentic to claim LA as my hometown. I still feel like I represent something other than an LA band. The whole ethos of Sego is the tug-of-war between Utah and California—cultural, geographical, musical—and that connection has recognizably influenced me. But I’m not out to blow anyone’s mind for being from Utah.
BR: One thing I always like to talk about—and maybe this is more a frontman thing—is “the moment when you knew.” When did you know that you wanted to play music? Did you know that you wanted to be a frontman? Do you even want to be a frontman?
SP: Well, to answer the first part: I don’t know if I ever had that moment. The closest I can think of is a cheesy anecdote. I wasn’t more than 10 years old and was in my parents’ room playing my dad’s crappy nylon-string guitar. I was plunking away, playing nonsense, and my mom said in passing, “Oh, Spencer, the musician of the family.” My little mind thought, “Yeah, I am.” It’s interesting how impactful comments can be on impressionable minds. That was when I started playing guitar. Went over to Joe Brown’s house and he taught me how to play “Bad to the Bone” on that yellow, hollow-body Kay guitar I still have.
BR: That’s an actual person? Joe Brown taught you “Bad to the Bone”?
SP: “Bad to the Bone” Joe Brown is what the name would suggest: a strong fighter, kind of scrappy, came from a tough background. He loved Metallica and ACDC. If I showed you a picture of him in the ninth grade, he has a fro-mullet thing going on. Like the poofy-front, blow-dried hair. If you’re reading this, Joe, I love you still and we need to hang out. So Joe taught me my first song, then I ended up in orchestra playing bass.
BR: How did that happen?
SP: Well, I flipped a coin. As soon as I started playing guitar, I wanted to be in a band. Going into middle school, I had the option of joining either orchestra, band or choir and Spanish class. I don’t know why they grouped choir and Spanish class together, but those were my three options. So I decided with my friend Matt Gardner, who also wanted to be in a band, that one of us would learn bass in orchestra, which would translate to bass guitar, and the other would learn how to play drums in band. We literally just flipped a coin, and I got orchestra. Fast forward, that got me into college, where I was studying to be a professional bassist in an orchestra.
BR: What if you had gotten band?
SP: Well, Matt Gardner quit band a year later. He’s gotten into film and entrepreneurship and done well for himself. So maybe it’s best he got band.
BR: I wonder how many people have that moment like yours, when someone sparks something in them, and they think, “Oh, maybe I am good at this.”
SP: It’s a powerful thing. There are instances where I’ve said something to someone, and years later they’ll say, “You told me that you liked this one thing.” Maybe I was just being nice, but somehow it made an impact and changed your life.
Speaking of how words affect you, I’ve always been a bass guitarist, and this is my first try singing for a band. Initially, my whole premise was to write songs for someone else to sing. But I ended up recording demos and got a lot of positive responses. I thought, “Maybe I could pull this off.”
BR: I remember hearing your demos back in the day, and I definitely loved your voice. There’s this character to it that not a lot of singers have. Your EPs are some of my favorite ever.
SP: It’s a very un-frontman style of singing. I’m left with my own style to buoy me up.
BR: Aren’t we all? I’m interested in hearing about your process, and specifically what it’s been in the last year.
“I feel like overall I’m a man of processes.
I love a clear-cut path. I love the instructions.
I love objectivity, and therein lies
my issue with process in songwriting.”
— Spencer Petersen
SP: I feel like overall I’m a man of processes. I love a clear-cut path. I love the instructions. That’s why I really love math. I tested out of it in college, and I regret that. I ended up studying the arts and music, and it was always frustrating because there’s no definitive answer. You can’t really assess something on a one-to-ten scale. I love objectivity, and therein lies my issue with process in songwriting. I want to know that there is a correct process, like, “Okay, I’ll start with bass and vocals.” That’s an open slate harmonically. I’ve also started my process by making a beat. You can build something up with a beat, and if you don’t like it, break it back down and rebuild it. The guitarist in me can’t help but start with riffs sometimes. This year, the process has been starting with drums and bass. I also have an ongoing stream of text messages that I send to myself while I’m laying in bed, going to sleep. I feel like I get my best ideas that late, but I always succumb to sleep. So I fit in a little bit before bed. I come up with some of my favorite lines in that state because I’m a little delirious.
BR: I do the same. There have been times when I’m almost asleep, and I’ll get up and go start typing. That’s been my favorite stuff.
SP: I’ve had a few experiences where I stayed up all night working until sunrise. All of the sudden, you break through that wall and get a surge of energy. You are almost in third person—very present but very withdrawn from yourself. I’ve written entire songs in that space, and that’s where I got the idea to recreate it more regularly without having to ravage my schedule and body.
BR: You don’t do drugs and neither do I. I think we do need to go the extra lengths to get in those mental states.
SP: I can totally see why people use drugs as a creative tool. You’re trying to explore and put your head in a place where you can be creative. We just have to be a little more disciplined about it.
BR: And let go of inhibitions.
SP: Lyrically, this whole project has been one of the more honest things I’ve done.
BR: What would you say is an overarching message in the album?
SP: Everything is very autobiographical in a chronological way. It follows 20 years total—being true to yourself, being lost, moving from Utah to Los Angeles—up until now. It’s a coming-of-age story about trying to be treated seriously when you haven’t earned it yet. Trying to skip steps.
BR: Are you talking about imposter syndrome? A lot of artists, no matter how successful they are, worry that people are going to discover it’s all luck.
SP: I can relate to that, but not in a debilitating way. What I meant was I wanted it all right away before I learned what I was doing, in a cart-before-the-horse kind of way. I wanted to be at the finish line right away. It’s a theme in my life.
BR: Enjoying the now is hard when, as an artist, you have a lot of grandiose ideals. How are you supposed to be happy with where you are when you’re trying to accomplish massive things?
SP: What I keep learning over and over is that there is no finish line. Back in Provo, Thomas [Carroll of Sego] and I had a running joke about “getting the call.” Tom worked at this sandwich shop and would wait all day for me to give him the call like, “Tom, quit your job. We made it.” We made this list over seven years of what we would do when we got the call. It’s huge. What you realize over time is that the call doesn’t exist. Or I’ve gotten what “the call” meant to me back then 20 times over at this point, but to me now it’s not “the call.”
The imposter syndrome is very interesting to me, especially when you’re trying to assess your own originality. You can swing into the bleak really fast. It’s hard to define what being truly original is. More and more, the moments that feel truly original are totally by accident. Then, by definition, they aren’t my ideas. I just grabbed them out of the universe. Otherwise, I’m drawing from my well of experience.
“To come up with something completely
original, I have to screw up
a guitar part and then like it or
accidentally hear a melody backwards
and realize it sounds cooler
that way. It’s not a lightning bolt.”
— Spencer Petersen
BR: That’s what inspiration is, grabbing something out of thin air. I think the imposter syndrome is not knowing where you got your ideas, but that’s also what created the really great artists of the past. They found a way to have a string of those moments.
SP: There’s also the inevitability of influence, and diversifying your influences enough that it becomes a unique voice. It’s like creating a person—all you know is what you’ve heard and learned. To come up with something completely original, I have to screw up a guitar part and then like it or accidentally hear a melody backwards and realize it sounds cooler that way. It’s not a lightning bolt.
BR: Which of your songs is your favorite?
SP: Well, they’re all the best.
BR: This is a question I always hate answering myself. It’s like choosing a favorite child.
SP: It’s between “Engineer Amnesia” and “Once Was Lost Now Just Hanging Around.”
BR: “Engineer Amnesia” has been my longtime favorite.
SP: “Engineer Amnesia” has a very specific meaning for me, but I’m not sure how it translates for people. I always feel skittish when people really get into my songs because you want to think that themes are overarching and people just get it, but once you let it go, you don’t even own it anymore. The listener now owns that song. You can try to control how they’re going to perceive it, but after awhile it’s theirs. It’s a weird feeling, like you’re playing covers of your own songs.
BR: That reminds me of the documentary about The National. In the final scene, frontman Matt Berninger’s brother, who is the filmmaker, has him wipe a foggy mirror with his hand and say with a straight face, “Well, the National belongs to everybody now.” And he can’t stop cracking up.
SP: It is this cheesy thing, but it’s real. As soon as someone is singing a song at your show, you’re like, “Wow, it’s more important to them than it is to me now. It’s theirs.”