April 11, 2012 2:35 PM ET
Silversun Pickups frontman Brian Aubert began the band's new album Neck of the Woods, due May 8th, halfway around the world from his L.A. home. "These songs started to bounce around my head on this trip to Europe where I had some silence," he tells Rolling Stone. "I was in places like Iceland and north of Italy and Hungary, and four or five songs started to come."
While traveling, Aubert became intrigued with the romantic literary notion of being a stranger in a strange land. "That's where it all started – looking at these towns and trying to break in, knowing I can never break in because I'm not from here, really wondering about the people that were," he says.
Ironically, while the album originated thousands of miles away, the recording with producer Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M.) brought Aubert back to where it all began. "We ended up recording the whole album two minutes from where I was born, Topanga Canyon," says Aubert, which he knew all about. Or so he thought. Having long ago left behind the idyllic Southern California neighborhood that links the famed beaches of Malibu with the San Fernando Valley, Aubert found himself as removed as he was in Italy and Hungary.
"I felt the same way – I am now a stranger because everything here I knew is gone, the people that I knew are gone. All that started to really attack the feeling of the record, especially lyrically," he says.
The result is a fascinating juxtaposition. Sonically, Neck of the Woods is a much more relaxed collection of songs, more open than the band's previous two albums, which Aubert described as "dominating all the soundscapes all the time." But lyrically, Aubert says, "It was more intense than anything I've ever done, especially emotionally," he says. "I opened up more than I've ever done before."
Looking for an artistic muse in the suburb where he spent his early life, Aubert was unaware of what he might be bringing on. "I didn't really realize what I was doing. I just thought, ‘Maybe I'll find some inspiration – there's a lamppost,'" he says. "It never really works, and I find it funny that when you play with things like that you're surprised when it comes at you in the way that you want it to. But when it does, it's crippling."
In opening up the floodgates Aubert found himself confronted with a lot of loss. "When my mom passed away a long time ago, everything changed. Topanga in particular, that's pretty much over," he says. "It was really difficult. I think the most difficult thing for me was the intense thought of the loss, because there are moments where you feel a blanket of safety that you haven't felt in a long time. It's completely gone, meaning the people that have given it to you aren't around. So that was a real tough one, and that is definitely in this record. There's a lot of wish fulfillment and conversations that can't happen anymore on this album."
Despite all of the emotions Aubert dealt with, he calls making the album a joy. "At the end of the night we shook it off and understood what this was. As equally as intense, it was quite a lovely experience," he says. And he had a chance to sit back recently and appreciate the accomplishment: "I did hear ‘Bloody Mary' on the radio recently and I kind of went, ‘Wow, that's nice.'"