I wanted to address the elephant in the room right away, though I’m talking with Ladybug Transistor founder Gary Olson in more of a basement, really, situated in a 100-year-old house on a sleepy street in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn—the recording studio for all six of the Transistor’s delicate, baroque-pop-heavy records. In April, longtime drummer San Fadyl passed away after a severe asthma attack; obviously, it hit the band hard, and I wondered if they’d thought about shutting off the Transistor for good.
Olson doesn’t clam up, dodge the question, or seem remotely annoyed. “If you’ve ever heard him play, his touch and feel is very distinctive, in terms of anyone we’d play with—it was really special, and he brought a lot of character to the band,” he says, pausing for a moment, looking off to the side, reflecting. “So it was a huge thing for us. But continuing seemed like something we should do.”
A tough choice, but a good one for fans of near-perfect indie-pop albums, something the Transistor has delivered for more than 10 years now, most recently with Can’t Wait Another Day, their fifth release for Merge. Members have come and gone, but Olson and crew have developed an approach to lush-sounding pop songs, favoring subtle orchestral arrangements powered by piano and guitar leads. Just listen to Day opener “Always on the Telephone,” which pairs a surf-tinged guitar with Olson’s baritone and Frida Eklund’s sugary backing vocals: The result is a timeless sound that contributes both to the band’s consistency and its relatively low profile. “I don’t think our music is that strange, but I think in a way, since we were never a hyped band, that may have contributed to our longevity,” Olson says, catching my confused look. “Maybe if we’d have gotten hugely popular, there would have been more tension in the band and pressure to do stuff, instead of working the way we do. I guess that’s a rather romantic way of looking at it.”