LET'S NOT BULLSHIT ourselves here—ambient music can be some of the most emperor's new clothes-ish, low payoff, substance-less, boring crap you'll find anywhere. It's easy to play nice sighing grooves, but damn tough to keep it interesting, human-feeling, and evocative of anything concrete. Small Sails, then, makes ambient pop that is upbeat, nimble, and fun as hell. Gary Jimmerson (drums, percussion), Adam Porterfield (keys, guitars, vibes), Ethan Rose (vocals, keys, guitars), and Ryan Jeffery (film projections) build gauzy, chime symphonies à la the Album Leaf. But where the Album Leaf is all about long shadowy valleys of Rhodes piano and spacious breathy pauses, Small Sails is a full-on pop machine with half-chanted vocals over tight percussion, bass-heavy beats, and micro-condensed indiepop riffs. And have you seen their live show with all the projected trippy shit? Wow.

MERCURY:What's new?

ETHAN ROSE: We are about to embark on a six-week North American tour, which is the most immediate thing we are excited about. The open road. We are just finishing up recording all the material for our full-length album, and we're talking with some labels about putting it out. Hopefully for a spring release. And then we have been getting bunches of orders from Japan in the last month, so we're pretty excited about that as well.

I think a lot of people are under the impression that Small Sails is just you.

That's weird, and I would have to totally disagree with it. Everybody brings something creatively to the band. I do a lot of the basic songwriting, but Gary and Adam bring the songs to another level both sonically and compositionally, and then Ryan adds a whole new layer with his films. On a lot of songs I can't even remember who wrote which part 'cause we spend so much time changing instruments, and our whole process together is becoming so second nature. Adam and Ryan and I have been playing together for quite a few years now, and Gary seamlessly entered the fold about a year ago. So in short, Small Sails is, and will remain a collaborative group.

How does Ryan synch the music and film up?

Well, he has developed a system for that. First he goes out and shoots all this digital footage. Images that reflect the sounds and melodies. Then he edits that footage on the computer to fit the composition of our songs. After that, he transfers it to 16mm film, which he then cuts into loops and projects at our shows. So, a digital to analog process, if you want to get all technical about it. This means that he can perform with us in a tactile way. He's basically in the back of the venue with a bunch of film loops that he loads on the fly into two projectors. Flipping them on and off, superimposing images, interrupting the light stream with his hands; he is a magical person.