Volcano!

Volcano! (Stephanie Bassos / June 11, 2012)

Volcano! albums arrive about as frequently as the Summer Olympics, so it's fitting the art-pop trio took its name from a geological feature known for long periods of dormancy.

The band will celebrate the release of its long-in-the-works new album, "Pinata"--its first since 2008's "Paperwork"--with a record release show Monday at the Empty Bottle. As with past efforts, the music on "Pinata" can be unpredictable, shifting from spastic pop cuts ("Long Gone") to comparatively slow-burning numbers like the art-damaged "Fighter." It's also, in many ways, the band's most approachable album, stripping away some musical eccentricities in favor of a leaner, pop-oriented sound.

Reached at home in Roscoe Village, singer/guitarist Aaron With, 31, opened up about the band's deliberate songwriting process, "Pinata's" more fan-friendly sound and his recent obsession with knives.

You chose an apt name for the band--you seem to have long periods of dormancy followed by bursts of action.

[Laughs] That's what we thought when we named the band when we were 23. We figured in advance we would take four years to put out every album.

What's behind these longer periods of inaction?

It'd be easy to say that now we're all really busy with things going on in our lives, but both of our first albums took really long, too. I think it's that we're very picky and composing songs is kind of a long, arduous process for us. We know it's not really a great strategy for a band to put out albums every four years because people forget you, and it's kind of like you're starting over every time. But to put out an album every one or two years and get into that more natural promotion cycle is kind of impossible for us. We mostly like taking our sweet time to make the music the way we want to make it.

It's interesting to hear how composed the songs actually are because they do maintain an immediate, almost improvised feel at times.

You think so?

I do. Maybe more on previous records than this one, but it's still there.

I feel like we've really kind of gotten away from that, so it's interesting it still sounds that way. Maybe it's just a holdover in the style, or maybe there's just a looseness in our playing sometimes. This album, more than any, is pretty tight riffs and melodies and no one is really freaking out and improvising anywhere. I think we've been making a concerted effort to write more concise songs.

What was the thought behind tightening up the sound? Was there a sense it was a struggle for some people to connect with the music?

Maybe a little bit, but really it was for us. That first album, we're proud of it, but some of those songs are really long and to play them every night on tour just got exhausting for us--and, yeah, maybe harder for a wider audience to relate to. Back then we were all listening to a lot of local, improvised jazz. I still love that music, but we've been listening to a lot more rock and traditional pop and top 40.

You wield a blade in the "Pinata" video, and the song "Fighter" includes the line "I wish I could turn my hands into knives." What's with the obsession with cutlery?

[Laughs] Huh, good question. I never thought of it as an obsession, but now that you mention it maybe I will obsess over cutlery. For the "Pinata" video ... I had this simple, single image in my head of me licking a knife while looking at the camera. I really wanted to do that for some stupid reason, and I got to. And the reason we mention knives in the song "Fighter" is because I wanted to parody the Billy Joel song "Goodnight Saigon," which has this amazingly ridiculous moment where Billy Joel goes, (sings) "And they were sharp/As sharp as knives, knives, knives, knives!" I've always made fun of that song, so I wanted to find a way to do that where it felt cool instead of horrible.

Have you ever seriously cut yourself before?

Are you asking me if I'm a cutter?

No, no. I'm just wondering if you've ever gotten stitches or had any kind of accident handling a knife.

No, Andy, I'm not a cutter.