To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Kollektiv Turmstrasse – Tristesse
02. Ame – Den Ratta
03. Shawn Snell – Fast Mover
04. Kaan Duzarat – Piece For Bass (Trus’me Remix)
05. Kaiserdisco – Amalfino
06. Soundstream – Makin’ Love
07. Soundstream – Good Soul
08. Curtis Mayfield – Little Bit Of Love (FOC Edits)
09. Shelby Grey – Stateless
10. Nico Stojan – Damm It
11. Acid Pauli – iBang
12. Petter – Some Polyphony
13. Nebraska – This Is The Way
14. Letherette – No Point
15. Tale of Us – Discochord
16. Head High – It’s A Love Thing (Piano Invasion)
17. Jacques Greene – Ready
18. Gary Beck – Before The Crash
19. Mount Kimbie – You Took Your Time (Kyle Hall Remix)
20. Grown Folk – Halfway House
21. Dam Mantle – Brothers Fowl
22. Dauwd – What’s There
23. Piper a Piper – Hour Hands (Carrot Green Remix)
“Pick a Wonder” is a special mix made by Toronto-based Pick A Piper’s Brad Weber with KnoWonder (Robin Johnston) as part of a live performance for the Archi-Textures weekly series. Each week has a different curator (who each put on one show a month for the weekly series). The curator that did our night was ‘Knotibel’ and “Bonding Agents” was the name of his night in January.
Brad Weber: selector, decks, effects, roland SPDS
Robin Johnston: kaos pads, effects, loops
Brad Weber — as well as being the leader of collaborative project Pick A Piper — is also the drummer for Caribou. April 2013 saw the release of Pick A Piper’s self-titled debut album on Mint Records, while City Slang issued ‘Pick A Piper’ for European audiences. As Weber told us, “Pick a Piper was originally formed to channel my impression of dance music using organic instrumentation…I’m really interested blurring the lines and leaving the sound source up to the interpretation of the listener.”
‘Pick A Piper’ is available now from Mint Records (North America), AbandonBuilding (USA/Japan) and City Slang (Europe).
Interview with Marissa Nadler.
“I like to bottle things up so that there’s a well to drink from.”
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Earlier this month marked the highly anticipated release of unparalleled U.S. singer songwriter, Marissa Nadler’s latest full-length album, entitled ‘July’. As ever, a special record, steeped in a fragile beauty, is masterfully created by the gifted artist whose deeply affecting songs elicits a spectrum of deepest, rarest emotion. An enriching experience unfolds across the interwoven tapestry of ‘July’ that conveys (yet again) the rarity of this special songwriter. Having released six full-length albums in nearly a decade — in addition to a plethora of home recordings, cover records and collaborative projects — the star of Nadler continues to soar the star-lit skies above us.
Album opener ‘Drive’ serves the perfect opening song as Nadler sings “If you haven’t made it now / You’re never going to make it / Seventeen people in the dark tonight” on the opening verse. An immediacy and directness prevails. The poetic prose combined with pristine instrumentation (majestic harmonies and gorgeous guitar lines) evokes an intimacy and honesty that never ceases to amaze me. The light of hope flickers amidst the void of darkness as the beguiling refrain of “Waiting for the light” forges a lasting imprint on one’s mind. The utterly gorgeous pedal steel line coalesces effortlessly with Nadler’s mesmerising voice towards the closing sections. As the notes slowly fade, a vivid sense of longing comes to the surface, akin to Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ that begins a similarly evocative and life-affirming record, ‘Songs From A Room’, from another space and time.
Joining Nadler on ‘July’ is Eyvind Kang (strings), Steve Moore (synths) and Phil Wandscher (Whiskeytown, Jesse Sykes) on lead guitar. At the helm of production duties is Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O))), a first-time collaboration for the pair. ‘1923’ reveals the hypnotic spell unleashed by the tight-knit group as a cinematic backdrop is magnificently formed beneath Nadler’s achingly beautiful lament. Delicate strings are placed alongside Nadler’s gentle acoustic guitar notes on the song’s bewitching intro. The first words sung by Nadler — almost whisper-like — sets the scene of estranged lovers: “1923 he sent a letter and it reached me”. A longing is embedded deep within the words, “I called you from another century / To see if the world had been kind and sweet”. The love-lorn pages of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and songbook of Red House Painters could form tangible reference points on ‘1923’. A timeless sound is created that is closer to a waltz than a ballad. The chorus refrain of “Baby come back to me” is one of the many truly transcendent moments captured as a Spector-esque wall of sound seeps into the pools of your mind.
‘Firecrackers’ showcases the power and glory of Nadler’s voice. The vocal delivery is a joy to behold, particularly on the rise during the chorus refrain, “Firecrackers / Burn into heaven on the floor”. Wandscher’s pedal steel forms the ideal compliment that reminds me of the close connecting worlds of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter and Nadler’s newfound ensemble. The spirit of americana is journeyed throughout the song’s trajectory as “We have drunk our summers away” is sung on a later verse. A love song — raw and bare — is unfolded before your very eyes: “I saw your face everywhere I looked / You sat across from me / And baby I’m a ghost when you’re away”. The acoustic guitar and voice of Nadler casts a magical spell on “We Are Coming Back”, a reminder of the endless capabilities of the singer-songwriter’s solo performance. One of my favourite lyrics appears on a later verse, “Still I live many miles away / So I can miss you a little everyday”.
The brooding tour-de-force, ‘Dead City Emily’ traverses the darkness of one’s fears, doubts and internal struggle, but it is clearly evident as Nadler sings “Oh I saw the light today / Opened up the door” that the light of hope proves victorious. A loneliness hangs in the air: “I was coming apart those days” hits you hard and deep. A lovely parallel exists between ‘Dead City Emily’ and the cinematic folk oeuvre of Nick Talbot’s Gravenhurst. Some beautiful imagery of “birds flying in the breeze”, and the “colours on the trees” that “change from red to green”. ‘Was It A Dream’ is a gorgeous folk opus that evolves into a reverb-drenched cosmic country gem. The intricate arrangements of strings and guitar creates a symphony-like, celestial sound that awakens your senses and truly heightens all that surrounds you. The beautiful rise, as Nadler sings “Hoping I wake up / Somehow next to you” beneath a crescendo of strings provides one of ‘July’s (many) defining moments and breathtaking epiphanies. Somehow, the song feels like an amalgamation of the most lucid of dreams and the insular world of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Bell Jar’.
‘I’ve Got Your Name’ is a stunning piano-based, soulful ballad. An ethereal dimension is tapped into here — bringing to mind the likes of Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell — as a road trip (from New York to home of Massachusetts) becomes the focal point. The second verse could easily be a lost verse to Mitchell’s ‘River’: “Riding back to Massachusetts / Couldn’t even see / From snow the road was studded with Christmas trees”. An illuminating spell is cast upon the refrain of “I saw fire then” as the flow of words turn to embers of a burning flame. ‘Desire’ is a glorious tower of songwriting and reveals (perhaps) the most compelling songs of ‘July’. It is how Nadler is capable of translating music and words into such affecting, vast seas of emotion. Desire is painted so strikingly clear on the song’s sprawling canvas of sound, particularly on the chorus as Nadler sings, “I could fall for you / You had eyes for me”. The songbook of Leonard Cohen comes to mind as Nadler’s sheer poetry evokes a heart that is laid bare: “You’ve got no lines on your face / Mine are mapping out the spots where we lay”.
Similar to ‘I’ve Got Your Name’, a heavenly piano-led ballad brings ‘July’ to a fitting close. ‘Nothing In My Heart’ brings to mind luminaries such as Sharon Van Etten and Nina Simone. As the lyrics of ‘Drive’ return to my mind, “Still remember all the words to every song you ever heard”, I feel those very words reflect the empowering feeling in which the cherished songbook of Marissa Nadler ceaselessly awakens.
Interview with Marissa Nadler.
Congratulations, Marissa, on your truly stunning new record, ‘July’. Words fail to begin to describe the sheer beauty and profound impact this record has had on me these past few weeks. You must feel deeply proud of your latest album, it really feels a culmination. Before the recording sessions ever took place, can you recount for me the space and time these songs were written, Marissa?
MN: Thank you for your kindness. I feel really good about the album…I mean as much as there are always little bits of things here and there that you could record over and over and over again. Nevertheless, once you release something like an album into the world, you just have to let it fly away. Part of the art making process is learning how to let go.
I wrote the songs last year in a very concentrated period of time. I didn’t write for a long time and then I sat down and wrote about 20 songs (9 of which got cut) for the album in a few months. I like to bottle things up so that there’s a well to drink from.
I would love to gain an insight into your song-writing process. As with all your formidable records, your beautiful prose and poetic words evokes a lifetime of emotions and memories, both old and new. For example, I would love to discover the significance of the album-title of ‘July’?
MN: Well, the album details the events of my life from one July to the next. Randall actually was the one who named it because I was struggling. I had no idea what to name it. We recorded the album in July so he suggested it and I loved the idea. I like simple, one-word titles. They are bold. Obviously, this is not a summer record. There is nothing summery about it.
The album was recorded in Seattle’s Avast Studio, working for the first time with producer Randall Dunn (Earth, SunnO))). Also, there is a wonderful cast of gifted musicians present on these sessions, forming the ideal sonic backdrop to your deeply affecting songs. I would love for you to please reminisce on the recording sessions for ‘July’? What were your main concerns and aims from the outset and what were the typical day-to-day routines like? I can imagine it must have been a special experience.
MN: You know, I had written all of the vocal layers beforehand as parts of the actual songs. So, the first few days in the studio I was alone with Randall at the board, tracking the guitar and vocals. Then we brought everyone else in!
Honestly, I really loved working at Avast! And I am looking forward to going back there for my next project.
The album opener ‘Drive’ is a masterpiece. It’s a fitting opening to a truly captivating journey you take the listener on. The gorgeous layers of ethereal harmonies and tapestry of acoustic guitar notes conjures up the timeless sound of Jackson C. Frank, Sibylle Baier and so on. Your mesmerising vocals are wonderfully melted beneath the mix of divine cinematic sounds and textures. Can you talk me through the construction of this song please? There are certain lyrics here that resonate powerfully for the album as a whole, I feel. “Waiting for the light” — a sense of searching is interwoven throughout the record’s divine fabric — could serve the prologue to ‘July’.
MN: Thank you. I think that ‘Drive’ is lyrically very autobiographical. It’s all in the lyrics, in terms of what the song is about. There’s a sadness and frustration I express during the song, but also hopefulness.
‘Dead City Emily’ is a joy to behold. You sing “Colours on the trees / Change from red to green / It’s a dead city Emily” on the opening verse that always hits me deeply. It’s the immaculate instrumentation and production of the song, and how it evolves into full-bloom towards the closing sections. Did ‘Dead City Emily’ originate as a solo acoustic demo, Marissa? Again, the theme of light and hope/survival comes to the fore as the lyric of “I saw the light today” diffuse into the mix. This is (yet another) pinnacle of the album.
MN: All of the songs originated as solo acoustic demos…though there really isn’t much else on that track. I mean there is Steve Moore on synth and me on 12 string…maybe some bass from Jonas.
This song is about the contrast between depression and hopefulness as told to a friend.
I love the placing of the sparse piano ballads, ‘I’ve Got Your Name’ and closer ‘Nothing In My Heart’ in part B of ‘July’. A hidden dimension is tapped into here, giving the album a heightened sense of other-worldly oblivion. I would love for you to talk me through both these songs. The immense power these songs conjure up is nothing short of staggering, where the cosmic spirit of Judee Sill beautifully drifts in the air’s atmosphere.
MN: I really enjoyed writing both of the songs, especially stacking my vocals and creating those weird harmonies. ‘I’ve Got Your Name’ is definitely about someone who did me wrong. Oh dear.
You have a rich body of work already behind you, ranging from 4-track recordings and covers albums to immense full-length releases and a plethora of collaborations. Now with ‘July’ added as the latest chapter to your cherished songbook, I would love to gain an insight into the narrative that connects these works that ties the delicately beautiful works of yours together? I’m always amazed just how prolific you are: music ceaselessly flows from your heart and mind. A new release of yours is always a unique work of divine art.
MN: I have been pretty busy in the last decade or so. I enjoy singing and writing songs and sometimes I just don’t come up for air. It’s what I do. There’s really no narrative thread other than the fact that I’m writing about my own life and the people in it, like most songwriters do.
You will soon embark on a U.S. and European tour. How much of an inspiration does traveling and seeing different cities and countries have on the inception of a new song? You must be looking forward to these upcoming shows. Will you be joined by your trusted ensemble or will they be solo shows?
MN: I have a new band with Janel Leppin on cello/synth/vox and Nina Violet on viola/lapsteel/vox. I’m excited but also a bit nervous. I just hope that my energy stays steady and I can stay healthy on the road. To be honest, I write most of my songs when I’m at home. When I’m traveling there isn’t enough time to really take in a city. One of these days, I hope to actually go on a vacation and really see some sights.
Lastly, I would love to know what records you’ve been listening to most these past few months?
MN: Locrian, The Dirty Three, Catherine Ribeiro and The Alpes…
‘July’ is available now on Sacred Bones Records (USA) and Bella Union (EU).
Interview with Axxa/Abraxas.
“As I got older I started delving deeper into the history and various movements of music over the last 50 years and I try to take my favorite sounds from my favorite bands/albums/songs and blend them together.”
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Axxa/Abraxas is the pseudonym for 23 year-old Ben Asbury, whose debut self-titled album will be released by Brooklyn-based independent label Captured Tracks this March. Hailing from just outside Atlanta, Georgia, Asbury combines a plethora of irresistible tones and infectious melodies on his highly accomplished debut, taking in divine worlds of fuzzy pop psychedelia, lo-fi pop, and swirling haze of 60’s psych and art-rock.
The tracks on the record were written and demoed around the time Asbury was in college (and shortly after) in Athens, Georgia, where he was studying psychology, religion and sociology. Meanwhile he started the RTA Collective, which featured Asbury’s cassette and CD-R releases along with his visual art. The artwork of hand-crafted silkscreen imagery lovingly graces the sleeves of the eagerly awaited debut full-length Axxa/Abraxas release. A visionary DIY aesthetic is forever apparent in Asbury’s art, whether it’s the medium of visual art or music.
What is most striking about the debut record is not only the large sonic palette Axxa/Abraxas draws from but the beguiling atmosphere that resides throughout the layered sonic creations. A stream of consciousness exudes from Asbury’s abstract lyrics where a sense of spontaneity and magic is captured from the spark of the young artist’s creativity. The glorious instrumentation of vocals, guitar, bass, drums, organ and synths conjures up the sound of a distant past, amidst an uncertain future. ‘Axxa/Abraxas’ is a record to “soothe our weary eyes”, a place to gather one’s thoughts and fears and a step towards inner contentment.
A record collector and music obsessive from a very young age (“I got into punk in the third grade”), Asbury’s Axxa/Abraxas seamlessly fades through a journey’s past of 13th Floor Elevators, White Fence, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Television Personalities and beyond, creating one cohesive whole of utterly transcendent, enlightening torch-lit gems. The songs, explained by Asbury, are “generally directed at myself, often criticizing my shortcomings”. The Crazy Horse-esque tour-de-force ‘Beyond The Wind’ contains floating guitars and an eerie atmosphere that drifts in and out of focus. “This fragile heart is in the sea / To fall apart in misery” reveals a torn heart unravelling at the seams. A delicacy and intimacy permeates throughout.
The album was recorded and produced by Jarvis Taveniere (Woods, Rear House Recording), who also adds bass guitar on several of the tracks. Woods drummer Aaron Neveu stepped in on some songs, as a trio of Asbury, Taveniere and Neveu quickly laid down the bare tracks. Later, the sublime layers of Asbury’s synths, organ and lead guitar would be recorded to tape. A wonderful pop sensibility glistens across each of the album’s ten cuts that conjures up the sound of Woods’ distinctive psych pop oeuvre, particularly on the stunning closer, ‘All That’s Passed’. The words and music feels just that. The pop gem contains clean guitar tones (echoing Real Estate or Woods), warm percussion and an infectious bass groove, all played beneath Asbury’s evocative vocal delivery. ‘All That’s Passed’ is a song of hope and healing: “We soothe our weary eyes / And we take a step towards what we recognize / And realize it’s never worked before / So why we’re trying again and again and again”.
Album opener ‘Ryan Michalak (Is Coming To Town)’ begins with Asbury’s synthesizer musings before erupting into a gloriously infectious indie-rock anthem, recalling the likes of Deerhunter and, more specifically, Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza. ‘Going Forth’ is a West coast pop crystalline gem with Byrds-esque guitar licks and organ-frenzied bursts (think The Zombies ‘Odyssey And Oracle’) on the momentous chorus. The beautiful guitar lead towards the song’s close brings to mind the perfect pop symphonies of L.A.’s Allah-Las and their note-perfect self-titled debut album from 2012. A punk energy and urgency is evident on lead single ‘I Almost Fell’ (the oldest song on the record) that recalls the likes of Dan Treacy’s Television Personalities. ‘Same Signs’ is an irresistible folk lament. Asbury muses “You’re just feeling alone” on the song’s chorus as a meandering guitar line (think Ducktails) evokes vivid imagery of lazy summer days and rolling green hills.
Hot on the heels of labelmate Juan Wauters’ debut solo album, ‘North American Poetry’, Axxa/Abraxas is another towering achievement from a hugely promising artistic talent, home on the indie-supreme label, Captured Tracks.
Interview with Ben Asbury, Axxa Abraxas.
Congratulations, Ben, on your truly remarkable debut album. The songs range from fuzzy pop psychedelia to swirling haze of 60’s psych rock and lo-fi pop and art-rock that creates a truly captivating batch of songs. Please discuss the space and time in which these songs were written and drawn from? I was very interested to read a lot of the songs were written while you were in college?
BA: Thanks! All the songs on the album were written while I was studying at the University of Georgia and this past summer while working at a summer camp after I graduated. I recorded all the demos on a Tascam 4-track in my ever-moving, ever-evolving home studio space “The Time Cave”, which is a clutter of music gear and magical objects that I’ve acquired over the years. The oldest song on the album, which is incidentally the first single, ‘I Almost Fell…’ (also the first song under this moniker that had lyrics) was written at the end of 2010 and is in its third form on the record. The synth interludes on the album were recorded in the Time Cave in 2012 and are culled for a self-released tape of synth musings.
The album was recorded by Jarvis Taveniere (Woods, Rear House Recording). This must have been a special experience for you? The collaboration works wonderfully as faint hallmarks of the producer’s works is evident in the layers of pristine instrumentation. What was the typical day-to-day routine of recording like, Ben? Did the songs change or evolve during the recording process?
BA: Working with Jarvis was awesome, as someone who has been a big fan of his work it was really thrilling to be in the studio with him. Over the 8 days of studio time that we had the routine took a couple different forms. Aaron Neveu, who plays drums in Woods, was around for the first few days and we took the opportunity to record the cores of most of the songs as a three-piece with Aaron on drums, Jarvis on bass, and me doing rhythm guitar. After Aaron left we kind of jumped around between songs adding in the organ/synth parts, vocals, and extra guitar tracks. Some of the tracks were refined a bit and we made a few changes to endings (in anticipation of the flow of the album) and that sort of thing but most of the songs stay pretty true to the original demos, we wanted to keep the vibe pretty similar to those.
The album’s highlight for me is the sublime ‘Beyond The Wind’. The rawness and immediacy of the song is really quite something. The opening lyrics, your vocal delivery and the Crazy Horse-esque feel that permeates throughout conjures up the sound of someone lost or that of a broken heart. It’s incredible. A cathartic energy is released by the mist of guitars and ethereal vocals. Can you recount for me please writing and recording this song? It must have felt good to capture the mood and sound in the studio?
BA: That song has an interesting history, as it is simultaneously one of the oldest and newest songs on the album. It shares some similarities with a song called ‘State of Mind’ on my self-released demo album ‘Time Inside’. I wrote ‘Beyond the Wind’ this past summer and realized the similarities between the two songs and more or less merged them together. As with all my lyrics they’re written initially through stream of consciousness and then refined when I attempt to write them down. I feel like most of my lyrics are written in such a way that there is enough ambiguity for each person to find their own meaning, perhaps link the words to something in their life to create a perspective on it. For me the lyrics define the previous half-year for me, I moved around a lot and things were pretty much in disarray, being productive in between moves but having gaps of spaceless time. For me it highlights the difference between our true nature as humans and the things we have to go though to live in this society. Life can be a frustrating experience, and I often feel the weight of our current reality on me, it can be depressing. I feel like the main vibe in that song comes from the subtle, yet very spacey lead guitar that lurks in the background throughout the song. When I was playing that guitar part in the studio I was able to pretty much totally space out for the duration of the track and I think that really helped to capture the mood.
I would love to gain an insight into the visual art aspect of your work. How does this filter into the music side of things? I imagine they’re very closely connected. Staying on this, I absolutely love the album artwork — stunning DIY silkscreen imagery. Please talk me through the album cover artwork please?
BA: Like most things my artistic activity works in cycles. I’m almost always writing new songs but sometimes I’ll be recording demos nonstop and sometimes I wont even hook my guitar into an amp for weeks. I’ve been really into printmaking since I was fairly young but it wasn’t until about a year ago that I was very productive with it. When I’m in a musical down period I start getting more productive with silkscreen art and vice versa. It keeps me from getting depressed during the musical down time. The biggest link between the music and the art is the approach I take to creating them. I’m very much a process artist; I try not to think too hard and to let my subconscious make the decisions.
The album art is all culled from a large piece that I spent the entirety of last year working on. Its 26 separate silkscreen pieces done on fabric that I have sewn together into a tapestry of sorts. I’m making five of these, one for me, one for Mike Sniper, and 3 that will be available to any interested art loving folks. I wasn’t making any of these pieces with the intention of them being the album artwork but as the folks at Captured Tracks began to find out more about these pieces it became apparent pretty quickly that it was the right fit. Since the process of creation is the same for each media (audio or visual) I’ve come to find that the two are irrevocably intertwined.
Growing up you must have been exposed to music from an early age. What bands, albums and artists resonated powerfully for you? I would love to take a look into your (eclectic) record collection.
BA: I was exposed to ‘Crosby, Stills, & Nash’ and ‘Déjà vu’ by CSN&Y early on and I still consider both of those records to be perfect. Neil Young is a major musical role model for me. The album ‘Dusk at Cubist Castle’ by The Olivia Tremor Control was one of the first more recent experimental psych pop albums I heard and it had a big impact on my musical taste. I’m also really into Television Personalities and other early Rough Trade stuff. More recently I’ve really enjoyed White Fence and other rock bands from that scene, knowing that music like that can still come out and thrive is really motivating to me. I actually just packed my record collection up as I’m in the process of moving to Asheville, NC. It took 10 boxes (not including 7″ singles). Not sure how to feel about that.
Can you trace me back to your first encounter with music? What were the first instruments you learned to play? How did your fascination with sound develop?
BA: Growing up my parents would play ‘Fox 97.1’ in the car. It’s been a long time since that was a radio station but at the time they played lots of 60s pop music, so like Motown and psych/ folk rock stuff. I was really into CCR and had a ‘best of’ cassette that I played all the time. I took some piano lessons when I was pretty young, then later started playing bass. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I really started seriously playing the guitar. Music was always around when I was growing up and my dad and brother both played guitar, so that definitely drew me to making music. My dad wrote folk songs and so usually when he would pick up his guitar he would play originals (as well as some choice Dylan songs and the like). Because of that I’ve always viewed instruments as a means of writing music rather than learning music by others. As I got older I started delving deeper into the history and various movements of music over the last 50 years and I try to take my favorite sounds from my favorite bands/albums/songs and blend them together.
You operate the RTA Collective, which features your cassette and CDR releases along with your visual art and recordings made by friends. When did this begin? This labour of love must be a great creative outlet for you and all done with the inspiring DIY aesthetic. What are the latest releases and what are the upcoming releases for 2014?
BA: Technically I started using that name in 2009 to self-release a cd-r of the heavy post-rock music I was making at the time, although I never actually finished the packaging so it was never released. I did one other cd-r summer 2010 under my own name. I started putting out tapes late 2010/ early 2011 in order to co-release the first Axxa/Abraxas album with my friend (and touring guitarist) Brian’s label. I’ve been expanding it ever since and it has become a collaborative effort as I do art that I feel captures the vibe of the awesome music that my friends make. The last batch of tapes included a tape by me as A.X. which has the synth music on it used for the upcoming Captured Tracks album, as well as tapes by mill, Aprotag, and electronic oddity DJ Mickey. Once I get settled in at my new place in Asheville I’ll be getting a bunch of new tapes out, all music by my friends and I. There’s gonna be new DJ Mickey and Aprotag as well as a tape by my touring organ player Joe’s synth project Subtle Body and some poorly recorded, raunchy punk music, Flaccid Blast, which I play guitar in.
What are your hopes for 2014, Ben?
BA: Now that I’m in Asheville, where my band is, we’ll be practicing to get ready to do some tours after the album drops. In the meantime I’ve got about an album and a half of songs written that I need to record demos for and I’ve got the next few batches of RTA tapes to keep me busy. Basically I’m just trying to stay productive and keep doing the things I love doing.
‘Axxa/Abraxas’ is available on 4 March on Captured Tracks.
Interview with F.J. McMahon.
“I was born like a star
Whose light had gone out long ago
The longer I live
The farther I find I’ve got to go”
—‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, F.J. McMahon
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Last Autumn, the unique song-writing voice of F.J. McMahon came into my path — unexpectedly and unannounced — thanks to Philadelphia-based harpist Mary Lattimore’s mixtape, entitled ‘Keeper Of Beauty’. The lush baritone and warm acoustic guitar of McMahon’s ‘Early Blue’ evokes the sound of age-old traditions — folk and americana — yet steeped in a bold, adventurous spirit that undeniably belongs to the here-and-now. Lattimore’s side-notes describes ‘Early Blue’ as “a winter song to listen to in the car”. The debut album, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, originally released on Tiger Eye in 1969 — the only document of this gifted singer songwriter — encompasses songs of such emotional depth and striking immediacy that some four decades later, McMahon’s songbook ceaselessly generates new meaning and endless artistic detail.
The beautifully written album sleevenotes perfectly surmises the music contained on ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’:
“F.J. McMahon is a quiet individual in an exciting way. This is evidenced by his singing style, guitar playing and songwriting. The lyrics to his songs hit you at an abstract angle and the come off with the logic and meaning in today’s restless environment. F.J. McMahon is an artist who has something to say and says it in a simple, earthy style.”
—Tiffany Anders (taken from Tiffany Anders’ essay on the sleeve notes to ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’s 2009 reissue on Rev-Ola Records)
McMahon spent a year in Vietnam as a very young man and it is these harrowing experiences that found its way into the slipstream of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’s deeply affecting world of song. His experiences in Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines had a profound effect on him and upon his return to the U.S. McMahon actively participated in anti-war movements. In the words of the singer-songwriter: “I went through so many experiences between Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines and not just the usual experiences you think of, but because I was military police I got to see a lot of the stuff that goes on under the rocks and behind the scenes. It was obviously such a waste of people and money and material, but these people were getting wealthy off of it! And so I was depressed, disgusted, I mean it just shattered me.”
McMahon was discharged in 1968, having fallen ill with hepatitis after a year of service. While home, McMahon actively helped his friends get out the draft. A short time later, a collection of songs would be recorded on a budget of about a dollar and 98 cents. The local Tiger Eye productions in California, offered McMahon a small recording budget whereby two takes per song were put to tape. The back-up tracks were recorded first — taking no more than half a day — after which the vocals and lead guitar were recorded in the little Accent Records offices. ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was effectively captured to tape in about a day and a half.
The spirit of Townes Van Zandt, Fred Neil and Tim Hardin can be felt throughout the nine utterly transcendent songs of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ (the album’s title was named after the brand of bourbon popular during the period). The pristine guitar parts — rhythm and lead — performed by McMahon serves the resonating pulse to these particular recordings. The singular voice of McMahon possesses vivid shades of pain, torment, restlessness, hope and survival dotted across the sprawling canvas of sound. Joining the songwriter, Jon Uzonyi plays bass and Junior Nickles plays drums. The fresh and contemporary folk sound reminds me of ‘John Wesley Harding’ era Dylan, whose songs hit you deep and hard. A magical spark floats in the air as ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ captivates the heart of the devoted listener.
The album’s title-track — and album closer — is a miracle of song-writing that reveals the brutal honesty and directness of McMahon’s absorbing creations. Throughout ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ some gorgeous electric guitar lead parts are effortlessly blended into the mix. A sense of nostalgia is etched across the song’s narrative: “Now I’m sitting in my one-man room / One day at a time / Think about the times past / And a good ol’ friend of mine” begins the second verse. The song encompasses the hardship, struggle and pain inflicted upon the aftermath of war, and, indeed, internal struggle. The first words sung by McMahon — beneath the exquisite tapestry of drums and interwoven guitar — are words of sheer poetry direct from the depths of an artist’s heart:
“I was born like a star
Whose light had gone out long ago
The longer I live
The farther I find I’ve got to go”
‘Early Blue’ is wrapped in a yearning feel that slowly envelops your very heart and mind. An achingly beautiful lament is created here, and like a rising sun, rays of illuminating light gradually falls through the cracks of despair. The voice sings to you like an old, dependable friend. The lyrics evoke imagery of springtime and someone lost in the surrounding world, particularly on the endearing chorus refrain of “And I run away”. The words are simple, personal, and reflective of a distant past: “Early blue / I see you / Through my window / Becoming lighter / As the sun gets brighter / And the night goes away”. I feel the spirit of ‘Sunflower’ era Beach Boys ascend into atmosphere as an ocean of sadness permeates throughout. The closing verse serves a guiding light to keep on keeping on: “But I know it’ll happen soon / Early blue come to my room next morning / And I’ll try to go to sleep.”
‘Five Year Kansas Blues’ is a folk gem straight from the sacred songbook of Woody Guthrie or Johnny Cash, and would fit perfectly on Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’. In the words of McMahon: “It’s written about a guy who is going to prison for avoiding the draft and the sentence for avoiding the draft is five years, and where you go to prison is Levinworth, Kansas in the federal prison.” The first words resonate powerfully as McMahon asks “How does it feel to feel free?” On the following cut, ‘Enough It Is Done’, a stream of irresistible blues licks penetrate the headspace where the feel and sound reminds me of the immaculate song-craft of Sixto Rodriguez.
‘Black Night Woman’ is a spellbinding love song. A late-night feel hangs in the air as McMahon sings “I remember when she looked at me / She had stars on her eyes”. The peerless musicianship and intricate arrangements of guitars, drums and voice is clear to witness here. Happiness and pain are sunk beneath the riverbed of time, as McMahon sings “I’ll continue beside her soul”. The lyric of “the uneasy feelings that call on me” on ‘The Road Back Home’s opening verse encompasses the dark subject matter of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ that reflects the songwriter’s mindset during this period of time. I feel the extraordinary body of work, created by F.J. McMahon, is an album to closely guide you along life’s pathway, reflected in song’s chorus, “I need someone to show me the road back home”. In just under thirty minutes, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ becomes a long-lost, lifelong companion.
Interview with F.J. McMahon.
It’s a real pleasure to talk to you about your utterly captivating and shape-shifting record, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, originally released in 1969. It was only last year when I first discovered this lost folk masterpiece and I feel very fortunate to have done so, albeit a few years late. The album was written and recorded quite soon after your time in Vietnam, where you spent a year as part of service in the military police. Can you please take me back to the space and time in which ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was made? Was it a case that the songs would just flow out from you, as you reflected on life and you’re deeply affecting experiences from being based between Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines?
FJM: It was the better part of a year before I wrote anything. After seeing the news, the demonstrations, riots and how the country had changed and attending funerals of kids killed in the war it all just kind of boiled over.
It amazes me to learn that ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was recorded in about a day and a half. Your singular guitar playing and style combined with your poetic lyrics evokes such a vivid canvas of raw emotion. Can you please recount for me those couple of days in which the songs were recorded to tape, F.J.? I love the layering of the guitars on the tracks — the solos, the rhythm guitars — which is effortlessly placed beneath your lush baritone. You are joined by Jon Uzonyi on bass and Junior Nickles on drums. How did you first cross paths with these musicians?
FJM: The first day we (Jon, Junior and I) recorded the rhythm guitar, bass and drums. We did two takes for each song at PD Sound in LA. Second day I recorded the vocals and guitar lead at Accent in Hollywood. Scott Seeley the owner of Accent was working with Jon on his own album and Junior was just hired for the first day. Scott Seeley played the keyboard on ‘Early Blue’.
In terms of influences, what were the records, while growing up, that triggered your love for music? Were there particular songwriters and bands that served major inspiration for you to lead you on the song-writing path?
FJM: All early 50’s rock and pop. For guitar Duane Eddy, Ventures, all the country pickers and Hoyt Axton when he was a single folk act.
The album’s title-track, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ is a truly breathtaking closer to this special record. I feel the combination of the deeply honest and reflective lyrics and the sublime instrumentation of guitar creates in turn, the pinnacle of the album. Is it true that “Golden Juice” refers to the brand of bourbon that you drank while overseas? It makes for a wonderful title, either way. Lyrics such as “I was born like a star / Whose light had gone out long ago” and “The longer I live / The farther I find I’ve got to go” creates a profound impact on me upon each revisit. Can you please discuss writing this song, F.J. and indeed if this was the song that provided the pathway to the rest of the album? It really is a full-blown masterpiece.
FJM: Really kind words. The golden juice is I.W. Harper bourbon which is no longer made. I wrote this song second to last as it is the realization that what gives life its meaning is both the good and bad. You can’t appreciate one without the other.
A beautiful yearning feel permeates throughout the gorgeous ballad, ‘Early Blue’. For your songs, are the words written on a page first, and a melody sometime later? I feel the spirit of albums such as Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding’ and the songbook of Gene Clark and Townes Van Zandt float seamlessly amidst ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’. I love the flow and aesthetics to ‘Early Blue’ and particularly, the minor key bridge as you sing “And I run away”.
FJM: As a rule I find some chords and/or riff that I’m comfortable with and then just start humming and singing what ever words find their way out.
Looking back on ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, is there a song on the record that you feel most proud of?
FJM: I have learned to like each one. As far as proud……….‘Five Year Kansas Blues’, a lot of people paid that price for their views.
In the liner notes, you describe how the album’s lack of much-deserved attention and recognition was like “a harpoon to the heart for a long time”. Can you please discuss the reasons why you think this was the case? I can think of several other spellbinding albums from the early 70’s folk era that suffered from a similarly lack of good fortune. Did you tour a lot during this time, F.J.? If so, I can imagine you must have played some special concerts where you felt a close connection to the audience, particularly as your universal themes and painful subject matter resonates so powerfully?
FJM: It’s just hard when you put a lot into something and it just disappears, I would slip one of my tunes in a bar or hotel gig now and again. Sometimes folks would like it, sometimes they just clinked their ice cubes and got drunker.
Forward several decades and ‘Spirit of the Golden Juice’ gets its richly deserved re-release on the Sacred Bones record label, introducing your utterly compelling folk songs to a new generation of music fans. This must have been a special moment for you? Your work of true art receives its long-awaited acclaim and recognition. How do you see the album now, some forty years on, F.J.? For me, as a listener, I can’t believe just how fresh and engaging the songs are. The spark of creativity remains embedded deep within the album’s batch of transcendent songs.
FJM: I am constantly blown away by the how well it has been received in the past few years and very grateful. I suppose the down side is the songs seem relevant because the world is still so screwed up.
You grew up in Santa Barbara, California and I read that you started your musical path playing trumpet in a grammar school. Can you recall the moment that triggered you to pick up a guitar and write your own songs? Also, I imagine you must have written poems quite a bit too? I find the words, alone on a page, is true art in itself when listening to your singing voice. What was it like to grow up along the coast?
FJM: Growing up in Santa Barbara in the fifties and sixties was about as idyllic as it could get. I always wanted to be a writer but had a terrible time with alliteration. My regular stories turned out short and my short stories turned out to be songs, which I guess turned out ok in the long run. What first clicked with guitar was picking up an Elvis Presley fan mag. I thought: OK, this looks cool, beats the hell out of working at a store. What a road that started.
‘Five Year Kansas Blues’ is a master-class in songwriting. Can you please recount for me writing this song? This song could belong on Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ or any one of Fred Neil or Townes Van Zandt’s albums.
FJM: Thanks again for the kind words. The Am, C, D progression just lends itself to story background. By this time I had been helping kids avoid the draft for almost a year. Some guys couldn’t get out of it and chose to go to jail. Most people don’t have the guts to make that kind of a decision of belief. I wanted to tell their story.
I would love to know how central music is in your life today, F.J.? I would like to think you still play the guitar and write songs. If so, is there a place I can hear these post-‘Spirit of the Golden Juice’ creations?
FJM: Not a day goes by when I don’t listen or pick up the guitar and noodle around a bit. There are a couple of people thinking of re-releasing the original album with some added new songs or just putting out a second album. We’ll see what develops. Thank you very much for your interest. It’s well appreciated.
Interview with Lucrecia Dalt.
“Inspiration is so confusing and it gets stranger with time.”
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Last October marked the eagerly awaited new full-length release from the prolific Colombia-born, Berlin-based artist, Lucrecia Dalt. Entitled ‘Syzygy’, Dalt’s third album was released on the innovative independent label, Human Ear Music. The latest shape-shifting creation further showcases Dalt’s gifted talents and supreme artistry to create a deeply captivating cohesive body of work that seamlessly ebbs and flows into one’s consciousness. ‘Syzygy’, much in the same way as its mesmerising predecessor, ‘Commotus’, can be observed as a state of mind, above all else, where the album’s nine sonic creations undergoes a gradual metamorphosis that effortlessly forms a continuous cinematic movement. The aesthetic delight unleashed by the young artist’s masterful production skills and scintillating sonic palette (layers of synths, processed vocals, guitars) represents one of the hallmarks of Dalt’s three-dimensional worlds of sound.
A definition appears next to the title of ‘Syzygy’: “A state of total oscillation that effervesces from the sand and levitates like a mirage.” Like the album cover of ‘Commotus’, perhaps ‘Syzygy’ is the aftermath, the world that remains after such destruction and decay. Recorded in less than sixty restless days and nights in Barcelona — having to begin at 4 A.M. due to the noise bleed of the nearby metro station — Dalt composed spontaneously, creating a beguiling song-cycle. The magnetic field of the metro station interfered with the sound of the bass, making the sound unbearable, resulting in minimal use of bass on ‘Syzygy’. Inspired both by the theorists Walter Benjamin and Italo Calvino, and by the oeuvre of filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, nine tracks were born that would become Dalt’s glorious new work. The album was recorded by Dalt in Barcelona between November 2012 and March 2013, and mastered by Alain at One Million Mangos in Berlin.
Having supported Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Julia Holter across Europe last Autumn, Dalt summoned enraptured audiences with her unique blend of hand-crafted soundscapes. A lovely parallel exists between these luminaries — Holter guested on 2012’s ‘Commotus’, playing harmonium on the track ‘Silencio’ — who craft similarly avant-garde pop creations that inhabit a magical realm-belonging to a space and time we have yet arrived upon. As ever, the timeless sound unleashed by Dalt pushes the sonic envelope with each timbre of sound, musical idea and graceful arpeggio.
The discordant notes of ‘Volaverunt’ seeps seductively into your veins as Dalt’s whisper-like voice asks, “Are we committed to the optical illusions of this isolated standpoint?” The healing tones of ‘Volaverunt’ re-enforces the central theme to ‘Syzygy’ of conjunctions and oppositions. The prologue — stated in words that adorns the beautiful album cover — depicts the following hypothesis: “are you in a hurry? see, the closer the conjunctions and oppositions, the more powerful the syzygy.” The album’s rich tapestry of sound discharges a cathartic energy that permeates throughout the interwoven layers and endless artistic detail. I feel the “mirages of glorious futures” drifts majestically beneath Dalt’s deeply affecting songs and with each glorious note and vocal register “a moment of time blind.” The listener becomes beautifully lost in the artist’s floating world.
A plethora of sources found its way into ‘Syzygy’. During the intense recording, the films of Antonioni and Bergman became “bandmates” in a way for the composer — suggesting things to happen, in the process. A wonderfully spontaneous process ensued that culminated naturally into the masterwork of ‘Syzygy’. Films such as ‘Deserto Rosso’, ‘Daydream’ and ‘The Hour Of The Wolf’ guided ‘Syzygy’ along it’s path. The utterly transcendent dream-pop opus, ‘Vitti’ is a dedication to ‘Deserto Rosso’ actress Monica Vitti. The distress and loneliness suffered by Vitti’s character is transposed into the music of ‘Syzygy’. Elsewhere, Peter J. Carroll’s ‘Chaoist Models of the Mind’ ( and Italo Calvino’s ‘Six Memos For The Next Millennium’ are dotted across ‘Vitti’ and ‘Levedad’, respectively.
‘Murmur’ — one of the album’s centerpieces — contains ambient flourishes of cascading electric guitar tones (played by Luke Sutherland) combined with Dalt’s electronic wizardry. The lyrics of ‘Mirage’ are sheer poetry that further awakens one’s senses and heightens all that surrounds you: “I approach and you vanish away away away, I grasp you and you’ve left.” As the song fades out, a fleeting moment of unfathomable beauty has approached and vanished before your very ears. Such moments of radiance are always a stone’s throw away as the ceaseless ripples of ‘Syzygy’s stream of dazzling sound forever illuminates and inspires.
Interview with Lucrecia Dalt.
Congratulations, Lucrecia, on the new record, ‘Syzygy’. It’s even more amazing than your previous ‘Commotus’ LP. I love how the album is filled with a sense of tension and uncertainty. It feels as if the music translates to a state of mind, and as a result, feels very human. I would love to hear more about the title of the album itself and the themes that comprises ‘Syzygy’?
LD: I run into this word once when I was reading about pataphysics, and the meaning lead me to think about possible ways to create music that could be separated in two to have two new pieces of music. But that experiment was limiting my creativity, but it opened like a parallel world of thought surrounding the process of making the record.
I can imagine how you create music, especially as you layer so much instrumentation (voice, electronics, and organic elements) and the distinctive production sound you make your own. You must see music in a unique way when you approach making it?
LD: It’s strange because I used to listen more to melodies in my head that lead me to record, lately all this music is just the end result of hours and hours of working, or combining stuff, mimics of music I enjoy, mash-ups of demos. Inspiration is so confusing and it gets stranger with time.
That’s very true. I must ask you about the wonderful process that served inspiration for ‘Syzygy’. Films such as ‘Deserto Rosso’ and Bergman films provided a canvas for your sound. What was it with these particular films that resonated for you, Lucrecia?
LD: I was spending a lot of time alone while I made the record, it became for the first time this super private process that no-one lived but me. Movies and books gave guidance and suggestions when I was lost in some processes, but it happened just randomly, I didn’t choose specifically those movies or those texts to work along with the record, it was just the information that was there, the information that appeared at that moment of my life. ‘Deserto Rosso’, ‘Hour Of The Wolf’, ‘Daydream’, ‘Fata Morgana’…‘Sans Soleil’, etc.
But, with ‘Deserto Rosso’ (not being my favorite movie in the world), I resonated deeply with it because of the way the soundtrack was made and because of the state the main character was in…but all the other movies contributed in one way or another.
That sounds wonderful. I feel the mood and cinematic feel/narrative to those films is projected onto the canvas of ‘Syzygy’ so effortlessly. Again, it feels such a natural process, like the air one breathes. My favourite from Part A is ‘Vitti’. I guess this is a dedication to the actress Monica Vitti? It’s such an amazing ethereal pop creation.
LD: Thanks! ‘Vitti’ is because I imagined it was her character in ‘Deserto Rosso’, the one who made these lyrics.
The defining moment (it may change with time of course) of the record for me is the closing section of ‘Murmur’ and ‘Mirage’ — the moment the guitar notes of ‘Murmur’ enter is very special. The lyrics of ‘Mirage’ are sheer poetry. Was this a song that formed the pathway for the rest of the album? It feels like a journey’s end or a wonderful climax.
LD: Not really, all songs were emerging more or less at the same time, I almost never work on one track at a time, but they do feed each other in the whole process.
I would love for you to discuss please the live performance, Lucrecia? It must have been special to support Julia Holter on her recent European tour. How do your songs translate to the live setting?
LD: I play solo, with bass guitar, a little keyboard and processes for vocals and bass. I try to stay close to the mood of the recordings, but in a way I feel performing. I leave some space for improvisation in some songs, like ‘Mirage’, for instance, is longer towards the end, and I also made a set list that included 5 songs from ‘Syzygy’ and 3 songs from ‘Commotus’ with almost no gaps in between songs so it has more the feeling of a mixtape in a way.
That’s very interesting. Both albums are related in many ways, and feel quite connected. Have you thoughts on what your next record may sound? I’m amazed by how prolific you are: ‘Commotus’ 2012 and ‘Sygyzy’ 2013…
LD: I have some thoughts, yeah, but you see, until I’m halfway through with the production. I have no idea what’s happening really, at first ‘Syzygy’ was supposed to be an album with cheesier ballads, or more moments like ‘Edgewise’ or the second part of ‘Vitti’ that feels more like the soundtrack of a 60’s erotica film, but this went on another direction. I do think that the next recordings will be less dense, because I already feel with these two records that I pushed myself back against a corner where I am spinning endlessly, I might have to find a way to escape this in order to continue…
You’re now living in Berlin, Lucrecia. How is this city for living as an artist? It also must be special to be part of Human Ear Music, a label whose roster comprises of such gifted talents: you being one of the leading lights, for sure…
LD: It’s great, simple, this city has space to have the life that you want to have, if it’s quiet, it could be amazingly quiet, and vice versa. It’s just difficult not to be missing the mediterranean food, but I can compensate that with a great deal of nice people and good conversations.
Last thing, Lucrecia, you kindly shared your memories and moments of 2013. Are there any particular aspirations or hopes you have for 2014?
LD: Yes, I also wish to go to Italy and hopefully to Brazil and Canada. And a bit more hours of sleep.
‘Syzygy’ is available now on Human Ear Music.
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Pole – Modul
02. Nicolas Jaar – Too Many Kids In The Dust
03. Liars – No. 1 Against The Rush
04. Jan Jelinek – Music To Interrogate By
05. Amon Tobin – 4 Ton Mantis
06. Radiohead – Kinetic
07. Greg Haines – Something Happened
08. Hauschka – Ping
09. Piano Interrupted – Hobi
10. Grouper – Vital
11. Talk Talk – The Rainbow
12. PJ Harvey – England
13. Solarference – Cold Blows The Wind
14. Lali Puna - Come On Home
15. Gonjasufi – Kobwebz
16. Apaslar – Gil Gamis
17. Moondog – Moondog’s Symphony 1 (Timberwolf) & Karheinz Stockhausen – Gesang Der Jünglinge
18. Jonny Greenwood – Trench
19. Popol Vuh – Lacrime Di Re
20. Scott Walker – On Your Own Again
21. Can – Vitamin C
22. Bläck | Tract – Backed Into A Corner
23. Burial – Rival Dealer
24. Everyday Dust – Mantra
John Lemke is a Glasgow-based composer who released his debut full-length ‘People Do’ last July on the Berlin-based independent label Denovali Records. Originally from Berlin, Lemke works across a range of media including collaborative works, live performance, film sound design and a documentary composer for the BBC and Channel 4. This April John Lemke will perform at this year’s Denovali Swingfest Experimental Music Festival in both London (18-19 April) and Berlin (26-26 April), full details of the Denovali Swingfest are HERE. ‘Soft Intruders’ is a mixtape compiled by Lemke that “definitely reflects my current listening”.
‘People Do’ is available now on Denovali Records.
Interview with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh.
“Everything that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea
Hung their heads and then lay by.”
—(‘Orpheus with his lute made trees’, L. A. J. Burgersdijk)
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
As I write these words on a page, I celebrate my twenty-ninth birthday. Interestingly, to recount some memories from my childhood (as one inevitably does on a day like so) — some distant, others intimately near — a river-flow of music is interwoven between the snapshot of fleeting moments and scattered incidents. Growing up I fondly recall first coming across Irish traditional music, and the subsequent linkage between this world of sacred sound and the values of heritage and identity (perhaps becoming clear some time later). A band who immediately shifted the ground from beneath my feet were Planxty with their lineage of folk and traditional song. The adventurous instrumentation of bouzouki, mandolin, guitars, uilleann pipes, tin whistle and bodhrán opened up an entire new world of beautifully precious music. The masterful musicianship among its members — Christy Moore, Liam Ó Flynn, Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny — formed a profound impact on me that opened my young eyes to the age-old tradition of Irish music and the ceaselessly magical beauty that surrounded these four corners of our island.
Forward some years later, and a similar feeling of illumination and sense of miraculous discovery is drawn towards one particular musician, namely Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. A trusted friend of mine urged me to listen to an album entitled ‘Where The One-Eyed Man Is King’ by this “incredible fiddle-player”, little did I know what celestial sound awaited me. How could I have missed out on this album for so long, I thought then, as Ó Raghallaigh’s spellbinding layers of whistles, fiddles, Hardanger fiddle, flute and piano, not only conjured up the sound of an age-old tradition but distilled a new dappling of vivid colour into the ripples of sound. A unique approach to music-making is etched across the rich canvas of other-worldly sound, from the opening notes of ‘It’s All About The Rhythm Of Her Toes’, a delicate lament to the closing drone-based, ambient opus, ‘The Old Waltz’.
Uncovered from the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, it was recorded that Brahms was enraptured with the Irish folk airs which he had heard played, and which he called “la musique des anges”. For these words perfectly surmise the power and glory of Ó Raghallaigh’s works, from his solo output to the rich body of collaborative work. In addition to being an established solo artist, Ó Raghallaigh is a member of two groups: The Gloaming (Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Iarla Ó Lionaird, Thomas Bartlett, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill) and This Is How We Fly (Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Petter Berndalen, Seán Mac Erlaine, Nic Gareiss); he performs duos with dynamic Kerry accordion player Brendan Begley and Dublin uilleann piper Mick Ó Brien and plays in a trio with Martin Hayes and Peadar Ó Riada.
The upcoming double-bill concert with New York-based cellist Julia Kent alongside Ó Raghallaigh in Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre (taking place on Saturday 1st March) will be Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s first return to the Triskel since last year’s special live performance with The Gloaming and will provide audiences with the chance to witness the immaculate musicianship and immense talents of Ó Raghallaigh in a special solo performance.
Ó Raghallaigh has released eight albums to date: ‘Kitty Lie Over’ and ‘Deadly Buzz’ with Mick O’Brien; ‘A Moment of Madness’ with Brendan Begley; ‘Triúr Arís’ and ‘Triúr sa Draighean’ with Martin Hayes and Peadar Ó Riada; ‘Comb Your Hair and Curl It’ with Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh and Catherine McEvoy; the eponymous debut from the band This is How We Fly; and his solo ‘Where the One-Eyed Man is King’.
This Is How We Fly is one of those adventurous and compelling artistic endeavors that truly reveals music’s endless possibilities. The self-titled debut album is a sonic marvel with one foot stepped in tradition and the other rooted in daring experimentation. This Is How We Fly is a melting pot of cultures and in turn, offers up a richly diverse kaleidoscope of sublime sounds. Ó Raghallaigh’s hardanger fiddle is blended with fellow Dubliner Sean Mac Erlaine’s distinctive clarinets and live electronics (Mac Erlaine’s solo Ergodos release ‘Long After The Music Is Gone’ is another essential listen) and Stockholm’s Petter Berndalen (drums and percussion) and Michigan’s Nic Gareiss (percussive dance). A truly captivating world of sound is unleashed by this highly accomplished quartet.
Most recently, the long-awaited arrival of The Gloaming’s self-titled debut album has been gracing the earth’s atmosphere. A common thread that connects these gifted musicians together is the masterful use of language, sentiment and expression. Ó Lionáird’s mesmerising voice blends majestically alongside the fiddle of Hayes and Ó Raghallaigh’s trusted Hardanger d’Amore. The opening ‘Song 44’ comprises of lyrics adapted from original poem no. 44 by poet Domhnall Mac Cárthaigh. An unfathomable beauty is unleashed by The Gloaming that utters, with every sacred note, to phrase a poet: “the godly-given prize” of true art and treasured music. ‘The Necklace of Wrens’ contains lyrics adapted from the original poem by Michael Hartnett. The piano line of Bartlett serves the aching pulse to Ó Lionáird’s fragile vocal. Some moments later, Cahill’s guitar adds new layers of depth and elegance. The words and music of ‘Opening Set’ — the album’s longest cut — represents the crowning jewel of the group’s towering debut album. Distinct movements begin and end throughout the heavenly sixteen minutes, as the instrumentation of guitar, voice, fiddle and piano casts an everlasting spell upon you that further confirms the abundance and exceeding beauty of its native music.
I feel the beautiful poem ‘The Music or the Folk’ by Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil translates the sheer beauty of The Gloaming’s truly transcendent work into fitting words:
“From time eterne unto these living hours
They count their heritage;
And fresh as wood-bells wet with April showers
It wears its weight of age.
The stream of nature-song runs quick the-day
As it ran in the world of years away.”
Interview with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh.
My first introduction to your awe-inspiring music was 2007’s ‘Where the One-Eyed Man Is King’, which I discovered through a friend of mine, sometime later. I absolutely adore your fiddle-playing. I feel your beating heart as I listen to the gorgeous compositions. Please take me back to this particular space and time, and share some of your memories of writing and recording this remarkable album?
CÓR: I first met Iarla Ó Lionáird in July 2005, and he immediately became a huge inspiration to me: although I had the desire to branch out, create something new, I had no idea where to begin. Iarla gave me a list of basic recording gear to buy: a PowerBook, Logic Pro, two Brauner mics, the MOTU Traveller. With this new kit, I hid myself away in the wonderful Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and just became a child with new toys for a few weeks, experimenting and adventuring in a new world of possibilities. There were two other inspirations at the time: my artist friend, Fiona Hallinan, with whom I was making ‘Audio DeTours’, and an album called ‘Miniatures’, featuring 60 composers, each of whom were asked to make a one-minute track, and which I had discovered through Peadar Ó Riada, who was one of the sixty.
I would love to gain an insight into your technique and the development of your drone-based fiddle style over the past few years?
CÓR: Initially, it was just a question of letting the music that was inside get out. Throughout my teenage years I gorged myself on traditional music that was drone-based, you could say: Patrick Kelly, Pádraig O’Keeffe, the Star Above the Garter, Mrs Galvin, as well as listening to endless hours of the uilleann pipes, basking particularly in the sound of Willie Clancy’s music. When I finished my physics degree at university, I spent three years making uilleann pipes myself, and found a much deeper understanding of drones and intervals through studying with the wonderful pipemaker, Geoff Wooff. I had also come across the Hardanger fiddle in 1999, and had begun to let that music seep into my subconscious. The main teacher, though, was experimentation. I had begun to cross-tune fiddles, so that instead of fifths between the strings I had fourths and sixths, sevenths and seconds and thirds both major and minor. Every interval requires a different micro positioning of the fingers on each string, and trying to internalize that information until it became second nature was probably the best teacher you could ask for. Also, writing new music in those new tunings meant that you could really revel in the possibilities contained in each one, really listen deeply to the sound and react to it in a very different way than you would in trying to adapt existing material to those tunings, I think. Another large factor in developing this style has been the tools I choose to use: the Hardanger fiddle, with its flatter bridge and gut strings, and using a baroque bow, all of which conspire to make a non-drone based style unthinkable.
There is a loving sense of joy and fulfillment born out of your music. Please discuss for me when you first started playing music and what were the surrounding influences that helped you on the path you now find yourself firmly on?
CÓR: I had a false start at the age of 6. After pestering my parents for a fiddle, we couldn’t find a fiddle teacher, and I ended up being sent for classical violin lessons: a disaster, which ended in the teacher summoning my mother to tell her “You’re wasting your money and my time. He’ll NEVER be a musician”. At the age of 10 I was reluctantly sent to traditional fiddle classes, still having the bitter taste of my previous experience informing my view of music. Yet after six months, I met some wonderful kids of my own age, who remain some of my closest friends to this day, and it was this friendship which really made the difference, always swapping tunes with each other and spending summers together at festivals, playing music all the while.
At one stage in my teens, I was going to two fiddle classes a week, plus a whistle class, a flute class, two uilleann pipes classes, along with various group and band practices. I was getting upwards of 20 new tunes a week, every week. I had some wonderful teachers, and also some wonderful playing companions. There can be something magic that happens when two people disappear into the music together, and I had one or two friends with whom I would really disappear with for hours, exploring music in something like a trance. There is something very profound about the act of playing music together, a communication with something abstract, a nearly meditative experience. That approach is something I grew to value as a teenager, and which still informs my approach to making music. One of my teachers was Michael Tubridy, and through him I got some part-time work in the Irish Traditional Music Archives, which continued for many years, throughout my time in college. The music I heard in the Archives had a big effect on me, and old world of sound and texture that seemed in some way to have been abandoned by intervening generations, and it seemed to me to be a world of riches that could be mined for gems of approach and thinking. Another big influence was meeting Tony Mac Mahon, and learning how he approached listening to and making music. I had always been profoundly moved by his playing, and he was a very interesting person to be around and to be influenced by.
Your music has been described as being heavily influenced by the uilleann pipes and the music of Sliabh Luachra. What is it about both these worlds of music that inspires you?
CÓR: The sound and feel of that music is the primary thing, I think. It’s also primarily the flat pipes which enchanted me, which are a very different beast to the concert pipes. The flat pipes have this beautiful gentle warmth, a roundness, richness and depth to the sound they are capable of producing that totally captures me. Flat refers to being lower than concert pitch, be it C#, C, B or Bb, and I always tuned the fiddle down low myself: there’s something about being down there that forces you to be more laid-back, to play slower, with more ease. Both the flat pipes and the music of Sliabh Luachra have that laid-back ease, and an inherent depth of complexity embedded in the microscopic detail of every note, rather than an explicit showiness and virtuosity. It’s that depth of complexity that I love, as though every note they play is biting into a fresh and juicy peach, reveling in letting the juice run down your chin. Every time they play a note, it’s new. There’s a wooing of the unknown in the way they play, a relinquishing of control, a desire for allowing the music itself to be in unpredictable control, not the musician.
‘A Moment of Madness’ is a recent collaboration between you and Brendan Begley. The duets of accordion and fiddle are things of sheer beauty. I love the energy inherent in the music. Please discuss this particular collaboration and the choice of songs you chose to record together?
CÓR: Spontaneity, unpredictability, dynamics and energy are all aspects of Brendan’s playing I have admired for a long time. We tend to choose tunes that enable you to disappear into them. Some tunes, often quite simple melodies, seems to let you disappear more readily than others: it seems as though you’re not involved in the act of playing the tune, only involved in the act of disappearing into the music. We also seem to choose tunes that tend to haunt us, that thing where you’ll have a tune on your brain 24/7, last thing you think of at night, first thing in morning, singing it to yourself all day long.
What are the albums you have been listening to most these days?
CÓR: Susanna Wallumrod & Giovanna Pessi’s ‘If Grief Could Wait’ on ECM. Other than that, my new old car only has a tape player, so it’s mainly odd old cassettes from jumble sales and charity shops.
Always listening to some favourites, like Brittany Haas & Dan Trueman’s ‘CrissCross’; Nils Okland’s ‘Monograph’; ‘Officium’ by Jan Garbarek & the Hilliard Ensemble; ‘I gCnoc Na Graí’ by Noel Hill & Tony Mac Mahon etc. etc.
You are an integral part to the amazing collective that is The Gloaming. Your live performances across the country were truly spectacular special moments in Irish music, and beyond. As an artist and composer, performing alongside like-minded talents such as this, must be highly enriching. I would love for you to discuss The Gloaming and how the band came into being?
CÓR: Martin and Iarla had been talking about “doing something together” for years, and asked the rest of us to come on board. Both are great friends to me, have been hugely helpful and inspiring down the years, and a huge privilege for me to make music with them. Before our first gig, we got together for a few short days and got the material together, under pressure. That’s it, really. We just meet up, do the gigs, and scatter. The recording process was lovely, really rewarding, and we’re all just thrilled with the result.
You are currently living in Dingle, Co. Kerry. A beautiful part of the world. I can only imagine how inspiring it must be to live there. How does this place shape your music?
CÓR: I’m right out on the very furthest tip of the peninsula, in Dún Chaoin. That place has been shaping my music since I was 17 or 18. I walked over the mountains from Tralee to Dún Chaoin on my Easter holidays back then, with a tent and a fiddle, and the place went right into the marrow of my bones, in a way. Every time I’d play music after that, I’d close my eyes, and that’s where I’d be. It’s a beautiful place, with incredible people, language, landscape, lore. I find particular inspiration in the work of my neighbour, the artist Maria Simonds-Gooding. I have been finding my head haunted by the aluminium pieces she has been working on the last few years, matched, in my mind, to some of Beckett’s words.
Tell me more about the solo project ‘Film and Fiddle’ that is in development for touring in 2014?
CÓR: I made a one-off test of a show for the Project Arts Centre a few years ago to see if there was anything in the idea of a one-man show of fiddle and film. I had walked the mountains of New Zealand with a camera, taking time-lapse footage of that incredible landscape. Along with some stop-motion video and some “virtual guest” musicians, I made an hour-long show of all that, with me standing in front playing the fiddle. Basic enough, but it worked, in a way, and it felt like a really rich way of giving people a window into your mind.
Sometimes, being from the world of traditional music, I wonder how to give people a window into that world, to share what I love about it. The same with other things in life I love, like being in the mountains. I want to start from scratch and make a really compelling, rich, wonderful thing of it, and a very Irish thing, but somehow hopeful and exciting and beautiful. I’m hoping to tour it in October 2014 with the help of Music Network, if we can drum up interest from Arts Centers around the country.
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh will support Julia Kent as part of a special solo performance at the T.D.C. Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, on Saturday 1st March 2014. Tickets are €12, available HERE.
‘The Gloaming’ is available now on Real World Records.