Interview with Lee Fields.
“I look at every day of life like another gift. Every day God gives you another day man, that’s another gift. So I try to get everything that I can from that day, try to be as constructive as I can in that day because there is enough destruction — I try to be as constructive as possible.”
Words: Mark Carry
2014 marks the return of soul great, Lee Fields with the highly anticipated new record “Emma Jean” (named after his mother), recorded with The Expressions whose been his trusted ensemble and collaborators since 2009’s landmark LP “My World”. Today, the North Carolina-native — now 63 years old, having released more than fifteen albums in a career spanning 43 years — is in a highly creative period where the unique blend of emotion-filled soul music pours effortlessly from each and every heart pore of the awe-inspiring artist. “Emma Jean” masterfully combines country, gospel, blues and soul that includes an achingly beautiful interpretation of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia” and a guest appearance by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
The latest trilogy of indispensable records from Lee Fields & The Expressions — 2009’s “My World”, 2011’s “Faithful Man” and this year’s “Emma Jean” — represents a beautiful case of musical evolution as Fields and co. continue to refine a pure and sacred sound of soul music. The Brooklyn-based Truth and Soul producers and co-owners Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels share the desire to interpret and further the formulas of good soul music. In the words of Fields: “They’re like my musical sons”. A deep musical telepathy is forged between the like-minded artists as the latest “Emma Jean” LP showcases the soul veteran on top of his game — singing from the spiritual self.
Album opener (and second single) “Just Can’t Win” is a glorious soulful strut containing Fields’ sincere lyrics, intricate horn arrangements, mesmerizing harmonies and clean guitar tones. A song you feel you’ve always known. The heart-wrenching JJ Cale ballad “Magnolia” is a tower of a song that sees one of Fields’ most striking vocal deliveries ever put to tape. The timeless sound of Nashville country and Memphis gospel is effortlessly combined as a captivating and enthralling performance is captured. A love song so tender and pure radiates from the heart and fragile voice of Fields as Cale’s songbook is joyously celebrated by a fellow-luminary and musical colleague.
“Emma Jean” was mixed by Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) and partially recorded at his Nashville studio. The smoke-filled ballad “Paralyzed” was written by Auerbach that fits nicely alongside his previous collaborative work with legendary New Orleans artist, Dr John. The pristine instrumental cut “All I Need” is a joy to savour as a bustling rhythm and funk groove ascends into the forefront of the mix revealing the peerless musicianship on display throughout “Emma Jean”. In the closing section, some harmonies are supplied by Fields that serves the fitting close. One of the record’s defining moments arrives on the sublime ballad “Still Gets Me Down” with its gorgeous guitar licks and horn arrangements. The album closer “Don’t Leave Me This Way” matches the tenderest moments of Otis Redding’s deeply affecting ballads as Fields’ quivering voice is beautifully suspended in the air.
Since ‘79’s debut full-length “Let’s Talk It Over”, the cherished songbook of Fields has constantly developed and evolved; transforming the lives of all those fortunate to hear each and every achingly beautiful note or immense vocal delivery of the soul veteran’s treasured works.
“Emma Jean” by Lee Fields & the Expressions is available now on Truth & Soul.
Interview with Lee Fields.
Congratulations on the new album, Lee. It’s such a beautiful and amazing record.
Lee Fields: Oh, thank you so much, I really appreciate that.
I would love for you to discuss Lee how this recording differed from your previous album ‘Faithful Man’, because I know the music seems to be flowing out from you in the last couple of years, you know with The Expressions?
LF: Yeah, I think we are in a very creative stage right now, we are in a very creative state of musical intuition right now and actually, I’m very happy with that because everybody in The Expressions seem to have so many great ideas, you know. And that’s a beautiful thing.
The new album has some lovely cover versions, and like your previous albums, there’s a wonderful mix of different styles as always.
LF: Yeah, what makes it so beautiful now — with the group now, The Expressions — everybody is in their creative state of mind like our creative juices are working greater than ever. Thanks to this wonderful public, man for continuing to support us and people like yourselves who take their time to interview me like this, I really appreciate it.
Well, it’s wonderful to hear — it’s like that true soul music, it’s the sheer emotion and the feeling you get from the music is just amazing.
LF: Well, thank you, thank you so much. I am glad that you can feel what we try to convey. What we try to do is we try to sing about life as it is, you know we don’t try to get into the mould of what the — I call it the few programmers in the world who program all the radio stations — what we try to do, we try to remain as true, you know we’re human beings and we can sing about human feelings. We’re human too, other than the two or three radio programmers around the world, programming everywhere you know. So, I appreciate that as well because that came about because of a reason and a purpose but we try to stay as creative as possible.
It’s clear listening to the music how it builds so much on your life — as in life itself and the experiences — I’d love for you to discuss your roots in North Carolina please? It’s obvious your childhood and life, even before the music path began: it must be rooted in your voice, really.
LF: Well yeah you know, I grew up in North Carolina where there were a lot of country and westerns mainly, and then we heard soul music on the weekend. When you think about it, soul and country music have a common denominator, and the common denominator is stories. Country and western music and soul music always have stories detailed you know, and I appreciate growing up in rural North Carolina because I still have a value for those beautiful stories that were told in country and western music back in the day, and I try to embed that in my music today.
That’s very true, I mean the stories, and they are always poignant and hard-hitting lyrics to the songs. In terms of performance, I’m curious too Lee, you know in the studio — I wonder has the process changed in any way over the last few albums or does it just flow out of you, like this thing that you just leave the tape running and you just do what you do?
LF: You know, I think you said it, when we go into the studio we try to have fun. We go into the studio not to make a great record, we go into the studio to make a record that we really like. And most of the time, people like the things that are very real. So we go into the studio and try to do things that we really like so when we finish the song, we’re looking at each other man, and we’re laughing, and I like that man [laughs]. You know, we try to keep that element of happiness in the mix. I think that’s what the thing what we’re doing now is what’s causing it to be as popular as it is. People can sense that we are happy doing what we do, you know it’s not that we’re trying to get a dollar.
Exactly, well it translates from you to the audience because you can feel the love and the depth of it all, it really strikes you.
LF: Well, it sounds so good coming from someone because that’s exactly what we’re trying to get. Thank you very much for just saying that and I feel that we’re definitely on target.
Actually Lee, I must say that the choice of the JJ Cale song, ‘Magnolia’ is wonderful too. Your version is really beautiful.
LF: Thank you, you know I think that JJ Cale is one of the greatest songwriters of his time, you know and I’m quite sure of well-known individuals such as Eric Clapton and a host of others, would agree. But I’m just saddened by the fact that he’s not around to see the outcome of what we’re doing because when Leon suggested we should do a JJ Cale tune I thought it would be absolutely correct thing to do but what I’m saddened about is his demise, that saddens me deeply.
It’s something beautiful as there is a parallel between yourself and JJ Cale because of that spiritual power or strength in the music and that you’re both on a similar path in many ways.
LF: Yeah, yeah, JJ Cale and myself I feel have a lot in common. That’s one of my reasons for my attraction to his work because I can see what he was doing because I can see his life in my life. But I’m so happy to have done that song because I really and truly believe that JJ Cale is one of the greatest song-writers man, of his era and probably even supersedes that.
As you say, when you hear someone in your stature doing a version of a song, that’s a real testament to his art as well as your own.
LF: Oh yeah, no doubt.
I’m amazed you know, when looking over your career, just how you continue to evolve and get better all the time. What really strikes me is your enthusiasm and energy and the obviously the work ethic that never fades away. How do you keep on delivering? It’s quite inspirational.
LF: Well you see like, I look at every day of life like another gift. Every day God gives you another day man, that’s another gift. So I try to get everything that I can from that day, try to be as constructive as I can in that day because there is enough destruction — I try to be as constructive as possible. Because when you look on the news and see all the destruction going on in the world, it gives me great pleasure to see myself working as hard as I can — being constructive and coming up with something positive, you know what I mean. I think not only myself but many others are doing the same thing because I think in the final analysis good will prevail, good things you know, trying to make good songs, good buildings, good cars, good everything. It’s all about putting yourself into it and using this valuable gift that God has given us another day of Life as positive as possible. So, I’m trying to be more creative but I know that I am running out of days. [laughs]
Well you’re as youthful as ever. It’s a wonderful thing that your art and your music will always stand the test of time regardless of phases or you know, what’s hip and what’s not.
LF: Yeah but I do believe that fate and the realization that this time is very valuable. So I’m trying to be as constructive, to be as positive, as productive as one can be with this time that we have. And what it does in return it enhances a person’s life, like me in my case, sending me all over the world and meeting so many beautiful and wonderful people and seeing their traditions and just enjoying life man, it’s like a dream, it’s like a dream, man. Sometimes just a conversation with a person to me is more valuable than laying on some beach somewhere, depending on the conversation, you know what I’m trying to say?
Yeah, it’s even the small, minute details can be as significant as anything.
LF: Yeah that’s what I’m saying, so creating music man — looking at life the way I see life, trying to make the best of what we have and God has blessed me with this wonderful band, The Expressions that I really consider these guys as my musical sons, they’re my musical sons man, because I waited forty years for these guys. And they’ve finally arrived. [laughs]
It’s amazing to think too Lee — as you say they’re your musical sons — how you crossed paths with them when they were only teenagers in a previous label.
LF: Yeah they were kids man, they are here and everybody’s on the same page, and they want to make the best music they can, and I’m right with them man. And just having this experience it’s more than words can even describe.
I must say too Lee, I love your story — I suppose like so many people do — of when you turned seventeen and you left for New York.
LF: Oh man you know, my mother had a fit. She didn’t want me to go to New York City because she was so afraid for me, man. She just wanted me to finish school, go to college and do what all parents want for their kids you know, do their best. But New York man, it makes a wonderful feeling, those big buildings. Hey man that was an experience but you know I was naive there, I was so naive.
It seemed with your music that you straight away made an impact on the different club scenes. I can imagine it must have been a wonderful feeling to use your talents and your voice and the soul music and get all these audiences, knowing that you’re making that kind of reaction.
LF: Oh yeah yeah, it indeed was very rewarding and is still very rewarding to see how my music is still impacting the masses. In the beginning it was very difficult to break through because I was under the umbrella of James Brown but it took a while for me to find me. Now, I think now people recognize that me has found who me is, you know. There are so many things that I am so grateful for, man that has transpired throughout this period of time that I could go on and on and on and on, man I am so relieved and so happy.
Another thing Lee is that it’s so amazing to look back over your work and see how your music continues to evolve. Like what you were saying before, over time there has been different periods, like the disco era in the 80’s and then hip hop in the 90’s and what remains a constant is your soul music.
LF: But you know when I think about the 80’s — the 80’s to me — it made me very vigilant, it made me take very much notice to different trends and different things that were emerging. It made me observe all these different musical art forms and take a little bit from this and take a little bit from that because in the 2000’s I did some dance music with Martin Solveig and we had some very successful tracks. But I achieved that through the 80’s because in the 80’s I was listening and still, I learned to — although regardless of whatever artist’s particular style is, they should always be observant in all the sounds because music is integrative parts — you can integrate all kinds of different parts of all kinds of music. And do you know the steel guitar part in ‘Magnolia’? We put steel guitar on the new album to add a country and western flavour.
It’s very true Lee, and I think that’s what makes music so universal and what makes it so interesting, where there is no boundaries or limits.
LF: Yeah and I think we put some steel guitar on ‘Paradise’ as well. As a matter of fact I would like to give a special shout out to Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. He loaned himself out for me and played on my track and put some background vocals on the Leon Russell song on the new album, so a special shout out to Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
It’s a wonderful collaboration because it shows you the impact — like you and Kool and the Gang in a previous decade — it’s obvious you’re making a huge impact on music and people.
LF: But you know what I feel from people such as yourself that really appreciate when an artist has given their best and you recognise that and you take your time out to explore it and show and let other people see what this artist has done, so special thanks to people such as yourself as well.
The title of the new album is named after your mother. There’s something very beautiful about that you know, choosing a title after someone that is so close to you.
LF: Yeah man, you know Leon wanted to know what moved me emotionally. When you think about anything that moves you emotionally as well as something that has been very dramatic in your life. And the most dramatic thing that I could think of is the passing of my mother because every time that I think about that she is no longer here — although she has been gone awhile — I still get that feeling, man, I get that abandoned feeling you know. I can’t think of anything more touching man than my mother.
Another person where this a parallel alongside in recent years is your friend Charles Bradley. Again, it’s just that emotion and that raw power of your voice.
LF: Well as I said, I try to touch people in gentle ways and emotional ways because I think when you hear something that touches you, emotionally it sort of stimulates the senses. Because sometimes we can become so into what we do in life and we become kind of callous-hearted. Sometimes it’s good to listen to something tender; to touch the tender side of a person you know, keep them in touch.
I’d be curious to know when you were growing up in terms of music and songs and maybe the radio, was there a song or a certain record that made you think, oh wow this is something I have to do myself?
LF: Oh yeah, well Otis Redding. Listening to an Otis Redding record to me, and an O.V. Wright record and Solomon Burke, people like that. People like that have always been highly inspirational to touch the tenderest parts of my emotion because I think that people such as Otis Redding and Solomon Burke — people who sing those tender songs that touch people — that’s what triggered me off.
Well it’s obvious you have your own distinct mark in music with your voice too, you know like Lee Fields, you have your own category at this stage.
LF: Oh yeah, absolutely. It took a lot of listening to a lot of other people because we develop, you know, a child is born from a mother and a father. I think we are all being a part like a race, we’re all part of each another, and we learn from each other. As we come into the world coming from two different people, we come into the world and emerge into the world, we sort of integrate thoughts from others and we become a lot of different individuals in a way. So in this way, a person really finds out who they are is the mixture of different human intellect that they deem to be worthy of integrating that particular thought or mood into themselves. I think that Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, O.V. Wright, I could even say John Lee Hooker, people like that, The Beatles … there are so many people that have enforced me and we all were enforced by many a people. So when I think about where I got my ability touch — to connect with people emotionally and tenderly — it’s from those people.
I can imagine too Lee, the “My World” album, you know the fact that it took quite a long time to make or for it to come together.
LF: [laughs] I came in one day man, I thought they would hire me to do some tracks that we were going to try to sell to different people. And one day they said, alright the album is finished. I was shocked, man. It was a beautiful thing, I was so happy that I went over to my wife, “Hey baby, look we’ve got an album!” [laughs] And I’ve been rolling ever since.
Actually, I love the song ‘Love Comes And Goes’ from that album, it’s really amazing.
LF: As a matter of fact, we are incorporating on the tour, we will be doing a great deal of “My World”, a great deal of “Faithful Man”, a great deal of the new album so we’ll be doing a whole lot of tracks at my show because people have become so attached to those tracks.
Yeah that’s true because it’s like a cornerstone to your collection at this stage.
LF: No doubt, no doubt, absolutely.
Well I’m sure the forthcoming tours will be amazing as always just like your previous tours.
LF: Oh yeah well I’m looking forward to touring because I love people, I love meeting people and talking to them and seeing what they think and that gives me energy to write, and to prepare for the next musical collaboration.
While you’re travelling and touring, do you find yourself writing words and writing ideas and putting things together?
LF: Yeah absolutely, absolutely. Like a song, if a person tries to design a song — I don’t think that song is coming naturally. I think that a song should come from different things to spark that off, you know using things that you do in life, people that you talk to, that’s to me what real songs are about because they are things that people really do in life.
Looking over your career so far, Lee would you have a favourite song or a highlight?
LF: All of my songs are like my children. I think that the future is always to me, I look forward to the future. I embrace what I’ve done and I appreciate all of the things that have happened to me, I’m highly appreciative but I think it’s always the future to look forward to. And I think when people put hope into the future it actually inspires hope into all things because it gives a person incentive, oh wow, you know the dream of tomorrow. Because nowadays when you look at television you see a lot of things that make the future seem a very dismal place but the future is gonna be bright for everybody. So I look forward to continuing to record, to meet the future audience that I will be performing for and I’m very much appreciative of what has happened so far.
“Emma Jean” by Lee Fields & the Expressions is available now on Truth & Soul.
Interview with Kat Epple, Emerald Web.
“My music comes from my connection with nature and spirit. In fact, all of the music of Emerald Web was created as a part of our spiritual journey. I continue to create music from that place of magic, wonder, and inspiration. After all, that is what makes it fun to make music.”
Words: Mark Carry, Photographs courtesy Kat Epple.
Emerald Web comprised the duo of Kat Epple and Bob Stohl who created a unique blend of “electronic space music”, fusing early electronic and organic musical hybrids with use of innovative synthesizer orchestration. The band recorded composed on keyboards, digital orchestrations, flutes and Lyricon. Their eleven studio albums include: “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”, “Whispered Visions”, “Sound Trek”, “Valley Of The Birds”, “Aqua Regia”, “Nocturne”, “Lights Of The Ivory Plains”, “Traces Of Time”, “Catspaw”, “Dreamspun”, and “Manatee Dreams of Neptune”. In addition to self-published albums, the duo were also signed with record labels Fortuna Records, Celestial Harmonies, Passport Audion Records and Scarlett Records. The album “Catspaw” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1986. Other musicians who performed or recorded with Emerald Web include Barry Cleveland, Jon Serrie, Ben Carriel and Steve Weiner. Emerald Web also composed soundtracks for the legendary Carl Sagan.
Named after a laser show formation, and combining influences from science fiction films, fantasy novels and a broad musical spectrum, the husband and wife duo would balance day jobs as synth programmers as well as TV and film soundtrackers under the moniker of BobKat productions with evening synthesizer shows at galleries, spiritual centers and even punk clubs. The near-mythical composers were among the first to DIY blend synthesizers and acoustic instrumentation in a studio equipped with Arp 2600, Mini Moog, EML Synkey, Roland RS202 String Ensemble and Electro-Harmonix Vocoder (audio processor), plus a range of woodwind; both Kat and Bob were trained flautists, making colourful use of Bill Bernardi’s innovative Lyricon, a hybrid flute/synthesizer, with some guitar assists by friend and co-composer, Barry Cleveland.
Ever since their ’79 debut “Dragon Wings And Wizard Tales”, the other-worldly music unleashed by Emerald Web has ceaselessly illuminated the star-lit skies above with each passing note, in its stunning beauty and divine radiance. A band who constantly pushed the sonic envelope and created new age music borne from the ‘70’s prog scene (later to be dubbed “space music”), the band’s final studio recording would be “Manatee Dreams Of Neptune” after Bob’s untimely passing in 1989 at the age of 34.
“The Stargate Tapes” was recently released on Finders Keepers Records, a compilation comprising tracks from Emerald Web’s storied career. Later this year will see more special releases by this treasured group. Let the Lights Of The Ivory Plains accompany your path.
Interview with Kat Epple.
It’s a real pleasure and honour to ask you some questions about your ground-breaking and visionary music. Under the alias of Emerald Web, you and your late husband, Bob Stohl have been responsible for some of the most beautiful and innovative musical explorations to have graced the earth — shifting between ambient, electronic and new age. Firstly, please take me back to the inception of Emerald Web and the musical telepathy that exists between you and Bob. I imagine the creative process behind these works of art must have been a deeply fulfilling time?
Kat Epple: Thank you, Mark, for your appreciation of our music!
We collaborated and co-composed music very spontaneously together, but we each had very different approaches. Sometimes Bob and I would play music together and come up with a theme or texture that we both wanted to develop and further explore. At other times, one or the other of us would play a musical idea that would inspire the other to add his/her melody or timbre. We usually would record the rough idea to tape, to remind ourselves of what we were working on. We never used sheet music unless we were working with another musician who was more comfortable with notes on paper.
When I listen to Emerald Web music, I can tell which of us (Bob or I) created the original music idea. Each of us had a very different compositional approach. For instance, I created the original tracks on “Valley of the Birds” and Bob created the original tracks on “Stepper”. Our styles were a good combination for collaboration because we each added our own unique elements.
One of the many hallmarks of Emerald Web’s otherworldly sound is the innovative synthesizer orchestration utilized on the recordings. Furthermore, you were among the first to DIY blend synthesizers and acoustic instrumentation. Can you please talk me through the electronic elements of Emerald Web’s musical trajectory please?
KE: We both played silver flute, guitar, keyboards, other woodwinds and vocals when we met. Shortly after that, we began to study music synthesis, and our music became very synth based, but also incorporated acoustic instruments. We caught a lot of flak for “bringing a flute into a synthesizer studio” from some electronic music purists, but we always thought the wind instruments added a lot of dimension and air to the otherwise electronic sound.
The first synthesizers on which we composed music were the Moog 10 and a Buchla with a touch-plate keyboard. We also incorporated Musique Concréte, utilizing nature sounds. At the same time, we were experimenting with Flute Electronique which was a flute with a contact microphone patched through octave divider, ring modulators, guitar pedals, and tape manipulation. It certainly didn’t sound like a flute unless we mixed in the acoustic sound with the electronic sound. The Flute Electronique is featured on our first album, “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”.
As technology advanced, synthesizers incorporated preset programs and additive synthesis. The introduction of digital samplers brought a huge array of new sounds to the mix. Multi-track tape recorders increased the number of tracks available. Our sound grew more complex, and incorporated orchestral elements. We continued to incorporate traditional acoustic instruments along with the high-tech synths. We were both recording engineers, and strived to be on the cutting edge of technology.
Outside of Emerald Web, you were instrumental in assisting synthesizer companies via feedback and consultancy in developing instruments such as the Lyricon wind synth. I would love to gain an insight into developing instruments and the process involved. For example, the enchanting sounds of the Lyricon has shades of guitar strings, oboe and french horn; a sound that is steeped in stunning beauty.
KE: Lyricon inventor Bill Bernardi, was a supporter of Emerald Web, and gave us a Lyricon 1 to experiment with, and to use on our albums. We often met with him at Computone to talk about ideas for improvements, changes and upgrades to the instrument. We were/are huge fans of the Lyricon. It is a unique and innovative instrument, and can be played very expressively.
We also worked extensively with Connecticut-based Electronic Music Laboratories (EML). They created some of the most innovative synths of the time. EML synthesizers are featured on our albums: “Whispered Visions”, and “Sound Trek”. Another interesting instrument that we worked with, was The VAKO Polyphonic Orchestron, which was the brainchild of David Van Koevering. The Orchestron was a keyboard instrument that played orchestral sounds (brass, strings, organ, vocal chorus) from spinning optical discs. It was similar to a Mellotron.
Recording studio of the electronic/acoustic band Emerald Web (Bob Stohl and Kat Epple) 1986. Photograph courtesy Kat Epple.
Your flute playing of course is central to this new age sound that you and Bob so masterfully created. Can you please talk me through your musical upbringing and your reasoning for choosing the flute instrument?
KE: Listening to classical music records as a young child, took me to distant lands and wonderful adventures in my imagination. That is where I first heard the sound of the flute. Although I didn’t know the name of the instrument, upon hearing it, I knew that I wanted to learn to play it. In fact, I wanted to learn to play the sound of the entire orchestra and to create my own musical stories (which is what I am doing now)
I started playing piano at 6 years old, and flute at the age of 7. Even at that time, I wrote my own songs and arrangements. I later played oboe, mandolin, guitar, and ethnic world flutes.
As a young child, I lived in Appalachia. The gospel, folk, Appalachian musicians who played out in the hollows and backroads, and in my Grandma’s country church, were exciting to hear and to watch. Although the style of music was not exactly what I wanted to do, the way they all improvised, and did not rely on sheet music, structure, or formal music training was something that I found inspiring.
I was interested to read how you both began as flute players in a south Florida jam session, which must have been one of the pre-cursors to Emerald Web’s formation. How soon would you begin your fascination with synthesizers and begin to think of combining the organic and synthetic? It must have been a very exciting time when you both began to experiment in this way.
KE: Bob Stohl and I met at the University of South Florida (1972) at a jam session, where we were both playing flutes. Shortly after that, we fell in love, and both studied electronic music and recording engineering at SYCOM (Systems Complex for the Recording and Performing Arts).
My favourite album at the moment is “Valley Of The Birds” and particularly the epic title-track. This piece of music takes you on a wholly uplifting voyage, led by the mesmerising flute-led melody. Can you please take me back to the recording of this record, Kat? Can you discuss the inspiration of Valley of the Birds in Berkley Hills where you resided?
KE: “Valley of the Birds” is still one of my favorite albums and tracks too. It was recorded in our 4 track reel-to-reel studio. The sequencers and synth tracks were recorded as the first 2 tracks, then we added flutes and Lyricon as the other 2 tracks. At the time we recorded this album, we were living in a beautiful ashram in the Berkeley, California hills. The view from our apartment looked over acres of trees, the Bay Bridge, and San Francisco. The trees were filled with birds, and their singing.
This is a quote from a review of “Valley of the Birds”:
“Emerald Web never presents a truly ambient music — behind each musical soundscape lies the intertwined melodies of Bob and Kat’s flutes caressing one’s ear and heart.”
(Ramana Das Yoga Journal)
Looking back over the immaculate songbook of Emerald Web’s vast recordings, is there a particular album that holds most resonance with you today? I would love to know if your techniques — be it writing, composing, studio recording, production, engineering — had changed or transformed in any way throughout the years?
KE: I guess “Valley of the Birds” and “Manatee Dreams of Neptune” are my favorite Emerald Web albums. All of those techniques you mentioned have changed immensely, partly because of the changes in technology, but also because I have grown as a musician and as a person.
I still enjoy most of our old music. A couple of years ago, I had the music restored and archived from the old reel-to-reel master tapes. Some of it I had not heard in decades, but as I listen to it now, I think it holds up well.
You combined influences from science fiction films, fantasy novels and a broad musical spectrum. These worlds are forever present in the music of Emerald Web as a vivid sense of mystery, fantasy, nature and sheer beauty is interwoven in the music’s rich tapestry. What were the films, books and music that you and Bob were obsessed with most that served inspiration for your own music?
KE: The first time I remember hearing electronic music was on the soundtrack of the movie “Forbidden Planet”, and I was enchanted by the sounds.
Our first album, “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales” was inspired by Usula LeGuin’s “Earthsea Trilogy”. In fact, when we sent her a copy of the album, she sent us a reply saying that she thought the music was beautiful and powerful.
I would say that JRR Tolkien was a definite influence too.
Bob and I were both studying Silat Kung Fu at that time, and that was an inspiration.
Science Fiction was very important to our sound too. We read Asimov, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Bradbury, etc. Sci Fi movies had a major impact on us and our music too. In fact, we enjoyed performing at Star Trek and Star Wars conventions as the featured “Space Music Band”.
Musically, some of our influences were King Crimson, Gustav Holst, Vangelis, Larry Fast, Walter Carlos, Pink Floyd, John Cage, and Claude Debussy.
The band Emerald Web (Bob Stohl and Kat Epple) in their recording studio in 1979. Photograph by Charles O’Connor; courtesy Kat Epple.
Please discuss for me the soundtracks you composed for Carl Sagan? This really does feel like a match made in heaven, where sight and sound becomes one giant mass of unknown beauty. Please take me back to these special collaborative projects you were involved with Carl, and indeed what the process entailed? Was it a case of being given some visuals/scenes and then composing music to identify a certain mood? I can imagine working on these soundtracks must have been hugely rewarding for you and Bob?
KE: We were huge fans of Carl Sagan and the “Cosmos” television series. It was honestly a thrill to work with him!
We worked with Carl Sagan on several films about the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The documentary, titled “Is There Anybody Out There?” on PBS, included Steven Spielberg, and featured Lily Tomlin as on-camera host and narrator.
Later, we worked with Carl Sagan and his production team, when the Voyager 2 Spacecraft reached Neptune. Emerald Web worked on films and television specials as Voyager 2 gave our planet its first glimpse of Neptune, as the extraordinary photos began to arrive back on Earth.
In recent years, you have been working closely with the Finders Keepers label as part of the Emerald Web archival project. This has already led to the incredible compilation, “The Stargate Tapes” from last year and Emerald Web’s ‘79 debut “Dragon Wings And Wizard Tales” to be released on CD for the very first time. It must be lovely for you to think there is such a special interest in these recordings that formed such a big part of your life, throughout the 80’s. What more hidden gems do you hope will see the light of day from the archives, Kat?
KE: It has been a great experience working with Andy Votel, and his archival record label, Finders Keepers. It is really good to have the early Emerald Web music restored and available for people to hear again. I appreciate the new fans that are hearing the music for the first time.
Finders Keepers plans to re-issue the album “Whispered Visions” in 2014, and to release other early Emerald Web albums in the future.
There will also be a collector’s limited edition of the album “Catspaw”, on the Anodize Record Label.
Other musicians you performed and recorded with include Barry Cleveland, Jon Serrie, and Steve Weiner. Barry Cleveland co-composed several Emerald Web compositions, as well as adding some gorgeous guitar parts. It must have been special to have friends to contribute to what the core duo of Emerald Web were creating?
KE: We always loved collaborating with other musicians. I recall many late night music sessions with a variety of artists and instrumentalists playing harp, guitar, cello, violin, synths, dance, video, and more. Unfortunately, we either didn’t record those magical experiences, or the tapes have long since been lost.
We played on albums with Barry Cleveland, Carlos Reyes, Michael Masley, Patrick Ball, Steven Halpern and more. Barry Cleveland is a long-time friend, and we are scheduled to play some music together in autumn of 2014.
In terms of live performance, Emerald Web played concerts at galleries, spiritual centres and even punk clubs. Did you tour much during this time? I can imagine it must have been difficult to replicate the Emerald Web sound in the live context? Do you have particular favourite shows from Emerald Web concerts?
KE: It took a lot of musical equipment on stage to re-create the music from our albums, but we did it. My very first synth was an Arp 2600 which consistently drifted out of tune. I developed the technique of manually tuning the oscillators “on the fly” as I performed on stage with it. Our sequencers had “volatile memory”, which meant that we had to program the sequences right before the concert, and as we were performed on stage. It took several hours to set up the equipment for our full show.
Among my favourite concerts were the ones at Morrison Planetarium at The California Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park. We would collaborate with the planetarium’s star show and laser show artists/technicians to create a powerful audio/visual experience. I remember standing on a stage under the planetarium dome, while over our heads, the stars would be moving, planets spinning, and laser beams flashing. Sometimes I had to hold onto the keyboard stand or mic stand to steady myself in this dizzying setting. Argon laser beams flashed just a few feet above our heads to create a criss-crossing matrix of green laser light…….an Emerald Web.
What are your thoughts on the contemporary music scene? Do you have personal favourite records from the past few years?
KE: There is an amazing variety of music that is easily accessible today, in contrast to the early days before digital downloads. Back then, it was more difficult to find new and unusual music. There is also so much more music available since a musician doesn’t have to be signed to a major record label in order to get his/her music heard. But of course, just because your music is on iTunes, etc., doesn’t mean that people will find it or buy it.
I listen to many types of music: World, Electronic, Americana, Jazz, Classical, Electronic Dance Music, Latin, Film Scores, to name a few.
Lastly, I would love to ask you what your philosophy on life is?
KE: My music comes from my connection with nature and spirit. In fact, all of the music of Emerald Web was created as a part of our spiritual journey. I continue to create music from that place of magic, wonder, and inspiration. After all, that is what makes it fun to make music.
Thank you for the truly beautiful music you have created and all the best for both the present and future.
KE: Thank you! Thanks to all of the people who have appreciated the music of Emerald Web over the years, and to those who are hearing it for the first time.
Interview with Tara Jane O’Neil.
“I went into the fire to meet you
And through the fire we walked”
—taken from ‘Elemental Finding’
Words: Mark Carry, Artwork: Tara Jane O’Neil, Photograph: Megan Holmes
“what sunflower”, 2008, Tara Jane O’Neil.
The beginning of 2014 marked the eagerly awaited release of Tara Jane O’Neil’s latest full-length record, entitled ‘Where Shine New Lights’ on the prestigious Chicago-based independent label, Kranky. The Kentucky-born visual artist, song-writer and musician has long been synonymous with independent music, having collaborated with fellow-luminaries Papa M, Ida, Mirah, Michael Hurley, Jackie O’ Motherfucker, and the King Cobra. In addition to the plethora of stunning collaborative projects, O’Neil has scored soundtracks for film and theatre, composing instrumental music under the moniker Strange Clouds. During the 90’s, the Kentucky-native played in the duo Retsin and Sonora Pine. The latest solo work ‘Where Shine New Lights’ is the follow-up to 2009’s ‘A Way’s Away’ that contain choral voicings, and electronic and organic elements masterfully woven together.
The album’s defining moment arrives on part B with the torch-lit ballad ‘Elemental Finding’ that contains O’Neil’s ethereal vocals, warm instrumentation of acoustic guitar and percussion. The elements of water, light and fire are beautifully interspersed in the sprawling sonic canvas. Towards the song’s close, the lyric of “Take a look at yourself in the water” resonates powerfully. The heartfelt lament ‘The Lull The Going’ is an achingly beautiful lament. ‘This Morning Glory’ is built on a gorgeous acoustic guitar-based melody that is taken from folk’s age-old tradition but feels mysteriously new; belonging to the here and now. An intricate arrangement of strings serves the vital pulse to ‘The Signal, Wind’. A post-rock infused ambient web of sound is effortlessly formed on The Necks-esque ‘Glow Now’. One of the record’s empowering crescendos ascends on ‘The Signal, Lift’ where a brooding melancholia seeps into the immaculate instrumentation of banjo, guitars and drums.
“Where Shine New Lights” is available now on Kranky.
“Tara Jane O’Neil”, photograph by Megan Holmes.
Interview with Tara Jane O’Neil.
Congratulations Tara on your latest album, “Where Shine New Lights”. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions in relation to this stunning masterpiece. I love how the layers of instrumentation effortlessly ebb and flow throughout, from the utilization of choral voicings, guitar, percussion and a myriad of other sources that conjures up a haven of enchanting sound. Please talk me through the recording of “Where Shine New Lights” and the aims you set out from the outset? You must feel deeply proud of this record.
Tara Jane O’Neil: Hey thanks. The record was a real odyssey. It was recorded at different times over 3 years. There were hurricanes and Kickstarter campaigns, and it was recorded in Portland, Woodstock, NYC, Los Angeles, Louisville. In some ways it was an exercise in getting out-of-the-way and letting the album take its own time and shape. My first thoughts about what I wanted it to be were not the thoughts that took over two years into it.
Recurring themes throughout the record come from the elements: water, light, fire, air and Earth. As ever, there is a beguiling atmosphere captured on every cut on the album, where an intimacy is formed between the artist and the listener. Furthermore, a vivid sense of solitude emanates from the embers of these works. Can you please discuss the wonderful title, “Where Shines New Lights” and the themes that connect the twelve songs together?
TJON: “Where Shine New Lights” is a question and also its answer. There’s a lot inside this record. I would betray it to break it apart and decipher its prompts. Just like any other music I put in to the world, it changes as soon as I play it for someone, or play the music with someone. Once it’s out of my own head and room, it’s a part of the environment where it is heard.
‘Elemental Finding’ is one of the album’s defining moments, a stunning tour-de-force in minimalism and captivating song-writing. The lyric of “I walked into the fire to meet you / And through the fire we walked” evokes such vivid beauty and raw emotion. Would I be right in thinking that this song opened a gateway for the rest of the album to come into being, Tara? I would love to gain an insight into the construction of ‘Elemental Finding’ and your memories of writing/recording?
TJON: That song was one of the first in the collection, yes. I wrote it in a day in Woodstock, recorded a demo the next, and a proper version with Dan Littleton a year later. It was not included in the in the couple of months where I was in the process constructing the record. In fact, it was the last day of mixing and that it was fit in to the sequence. So, it’s good to trust the first thought, and also the very last thought.
You are an accomplished visual artist with a seamless array of exhibitions and wonderful publications to your name. I would love for you to discuss please the relationship between sound and visual art and how one process must feed into the other? For example, your music — going back to your compelling debut in 2000 — possesses a powerful visual aesthetic and abstract detail. How does both worlds differ for you, if so, and would you work on music simultaneously alongside art?
TJON: Well… sound and vision are just balancing hemispheres here in my person. I don’t often work on them at the same time. On tour I get a lot of time to draw, then I do the show. Usually I have to sink in to a real musical brain, or in to a real visual brain. They activate senses, and the somatic sense that both music and visual art require is the real meeting point for both. Each are very much in the body for me.
You grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and later moved to New York, before living in Portland, Oregon in 2003. I would love for you to discuss your memories of each of these places and how these worlds helped shape your music and art?
TJON: I grew up in many cities. I did go to high school and start my adult life and my musical life in Louisville. It was the very early nineties and our community there in our small mid-south town was inspired and tight. There are a million records and films and other ephemera documenting some of what we did during those few years. Formative groundwork there. Some of us have left this world recently and it’s amazing to have that stuff. Louisville is a bittersweet heavy dose of deep family vibes… my time in New York and Portland are totally different beasts. I learned the next phases of everything in those places. My best friends and my forever collaborators are living in them still…
I am a huge fan of the various collaborations you’ve been part of, particularly Papa M and Michael Hurley. I can imagine that collaborating with other artists must feed into your own solo projects? How does the collaborative process differ from the solo compositions? Is there a particular favourite record you have from these wonderful collaborations, Tara?
TJON: Collaboration totally informs my playing and how I interact with different musical voicings. Collaboration is the best teacher. That communion which happens with other people while playing or doing some kind of performance is really the finest kind. I’ve been working with some dancers for the last couple of years. Improvising within a structure and responding to movement. All the work I’ve done with people on musical projects helps me understand how to invite others into my solo recordings and shows. The process of composing a record on my own with contributions from other players is kind of the inverse of going to play on someone else’s record. Sometimes I feel like a writer, working at their desk while I’m working on a mix that’s full of amazing sounds from different players. The actual playing, whether I’m a guest, or I’m inviting people to play on something I’ve written basically requires the same spirit of listening and getting free within a certain criteria. And my favorite records in the pile? Well I love them all, they were all really special times. But for today… Catherine Irwin “Little Heater”. Papa M “Whatever, Mortal”. Ida “Lovers Prayers”. Danielle Howle “Red Candles”.
What are the most important albums out there that you feel have inspired you to make your own music? Would you have certain records you always come back to? In terms of song-writing, who would provide everlasting illumination? Also, in terms of instrumental music, what bands or particular records do you feel proved pivotal for you?
TJON: Everlasting illumination? Maybe….Joni Mitchell “The Hissing Of Summer Lawns”. Judee Sill “Heart Food”. The Beach Boys “Friends”. Prince “Sign of the Times” side 3. The Velvet Underground. Leonard Cohen. Arthur Russell. Eno. Instrumental stuff recently… Alice Coltrane “Universal Consciousness” and “Eternity”. Harold Budd “Pavillion Of Dreams”.
What is next for you, Tara? Are there new collaborations on the cards?
TJON: I would like to start an R&B soft rock group. There are a few folks interested in this endeavour but nothing to share just yet. I will continue to collaborate with my partner Jmy James Kidd on her ritual modern dance pieces.
“Where Shine New Lights” is available now on Kranky.
The Sydney-based pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings shares with us her feelings on the album which had the greatest impact on her life as a musician. To date, Hutchings has released two solo albums, ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’, both available now via Australian independent label Preservation.
The Necks ‘Sex’, by Sophie Hutchings.
From a young age I became fixated with repetition… during practice or mooching around on the piano, even if it were a simple melody I’d made up. I’d enjoy the process of playing it in circular motion. There was a contentment in performing the same thing over and over again — although I’m sure my family didn’t experience the same form of contentment at the time! However, come my energetic teens it was the compelling and emotionally charged power of indie rock music that began to take precedence in my life, and although I continued to improvise at home with the kind of music I generally do now, I wasn’t exactly searching for anything outside of the more aggressive music I was listening to. I was spoilt by the records my two older brothers would bring home, and it was exciting to rummage through their collections and new finds. I felt I was discovering great and interesting music and I was! But when bands like Rachel’s came along, another sense in me awakened.
The first groundbreaking discovery for me was The Necks album ‘Sex’. Tim Whitten — who has been involved with the recording process of both my albums and a long-standing family friend — gave it to me saying: “You will totally dig this album”. I immediately fell in love with the purity, as well as the endlessly repeated motifs of the drums, bass and piano.
Repetition in music for me — be it ambient, instrumental or indie rock when done well — kind of transports you away from what’s going on around you. It holds you in a nice little pocket of time, hypnotic inflections drag you into a musical undercurrent and that’s what The Necks do to me. They manage to calmly hypnotize you without dissecting your emotions. They take you to a pensive place whilst also managing to uplift you at the same time. I chose this record, as it was a huge turning point in my life and it was the foundation of what I was then to build from. To this day I still hold onto it as a very special album. It’s one of those nostalgic numbers in your collection that you put on again, and again, again and again… and again. I never tire of it.
Artist: The Necks
Label: Spiral Scratch
Tracklist: Sex (56:08)
Personell: Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums), and Lloyd Swanton (bass)
Sophie Hutchings is currently recording her third album and follow-up to ‘Night Sky’ (Preservation, 2012) alongside The Necks’ producer Tim Whitten. Both ‘Becalmed’ and ‘Night Sky’ are available now on the Preservation label.
Galway-based musician and visual artist Brigid Power-Ryce has quietly established herself as one of the brightest hidden talents from Irish shores over the past several years. Having released solo material via such Irish independent labels as Rusted Rail and Abandon Reason to date; Ryce is also a member of drone-based trio Gorges. Ryce’s own solo material centers around her unique vocal delivery (recalling such diverse sources as early recordings by Cat Power, Irish traditional singer Margaret Barry and folk luminaries such as Vashti Bunyan and Bridget St John) while her sparsely delicate instrumentation of accordion, guitar, ukulele or piano serve to emphasis Ryce’s own characteristically intimate and soul-stirring compositions.
Fractured Air 21: Safe In The Womb (A Mixtape by Brigid Power-Ryce)
01. Angel Olsen ‘Safe in the Womb’ (Bathetic)
02. Neil Young ‘Danger Bird’ (Reprise)
03. Duke Ellington ‘Blues In Orbit’ (Columbia)
04. Charles Mingus ‘Track B – Duet Solo Dancers’ (Impulse!)
05. Maria Callas ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ (EMI)
06. Neil Young ‘For The Turnstiles’ (Reprise)
07. Sharon Van Etten ‘Your Love is Killing Me’ (Jagjaguwar)
08. Aretha Franklin ‘Dr. Feelgood (Love Is A Serious Business)’ (live) (Atlantic)
09. The Band ‘Chest Fever’ (Capitol)
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
Read interview with Brigid Power-Ryce HERE.
‘I Told You The Truth’ EP by Brigid Power-Ryce is available now via Bandcamp HERE.
Interview with Lawrence English.
“…my father would say: “close your eyes, listen, locate the general space where the bird is and then open your eyes”. I didn’t necessarily think about it at the time, but this was really the first moment I understood how sound functions, how it creates space and dimension.”
Words: Mark Carry
This August marks the eagerly-awaited release of Australian composer/producer Lawrence English’s new full-length album, entitled ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ on the ever-impressive Room40 imprint (which English runs). Two years in the making, ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ marks the iconic producer’s first album since the enthralling ‘The Peregrine’ released in 2011, which was Brisbane-native’s ode to J.A Baker’s novel (of the same name).
Drawing its roots from T.S Eliot’s poem Gerontion, ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ finds English continue his exploration with electronic music, and particularly, extreme dynamics and densities. Similar to his previous works (on revered labels such as Touch, 12K and Winds Measure), an emotional depth and gripping intensity permeates deeply from the shape-shifting electronic compositions.
‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ is available now on Room40.
Interview with Lawrence English.
Congratulations Lawrence on the wonderful new record, ‘Wilderness of Mirrors’. I love the contrasts that are super-imposed on the sonic canvas, where distortion and menacing tones are interwoven with beautiful ambient pulses and visceral noise. Please discuss the making of the album and what techniques and processes you feel were integral to ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ unique world?
Lawrence English: Thanks so kindly, always a pleasure to know it’s resonating out there! ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ is probably the first record I’ve made that very directly responds to my frustrations with what I see happening around me, here in Australia and also overseas. The record is born out of a kind of seething disappointment and moreover disapproval of what I see as a wholesale assault on the core values that I feel make humanity a worthwhile proposition. Here in this country, the past few years have seen what can only be described as a race to the bottom. Politicians fuelled by self-interest and cloaked in hollow ideology have played their constituents for fools.
In recent weeks our government has been accused of piracy, of undertaking refoulement and by doing so breaking the UNHCR treaty to which it’s a signatory. Then last week we had the government essentially endorse the notion that anthropomorphic climate change is a falsity through the repeal of a carbon pricing system. It amazes me in this day and age, with so much access to information that we can fail to have leaders who can enact that information, through considered thought and analysis, and devise some level of wisdom. ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’, the sound and textures of the record, are my small voice mustering all it can to express an outright refusal to accept such mediocre, callus, inhumane and ill-conceived rhetoric from those who would seek to represent us.
It was rather timely that I happened upon this notion of wilderness of mirrors when I did. I’d heard of it before, but it was quite by chance I came across it again at the end of making ‘The Peregrine’. The phrase seemed to capture both a metaphor for how I wanted a record to sound and feel, but also seemed to summarise what I was starting to see happening around me, those issues I mentioned for example.
Please talk me through the album-title please? I feel it embodies the music perfectly, in much the same way as the predecessor ‘The Peregrine’ which was your dedication to J.A Baker’s novel. Also, what themes do you feel are central to this record?
LE: ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ is a phrase that draws it’s history from T.S Eliot’s poem ‘Gerontion’. It is a profound and haunting piece of text that resonates well beyond the moment of its creation. When I first read it, upon thinking about the record, I was really struck by the way it opened out this sense of space in time. It reads with this deep sense of interiority, the words sink inside you and somehow recur in your mind almost subconsciously days and weeks after you’ve read it.
The phrase was also used to describe misinformation campaigns conducted by the CIA and KGB during the cold war. I thought this was also somehow a fitting metaphor not just for how I wanted the record to evolve, but also reflecting the more political concerns I had making the record. We see the ideas of misinformation exploited in new forms via social media and the 24 hour news cycle. All to often we see particular narratives spun and reinforced over and over through a variety of channels, narratives that may not actually reflect the situations occurring. Foucault was right, discourses to systemically form the objects of which they speak!
For me, the themes are very personal, reflecting, as I mentioned before, these concerns and frustrations I have, and I feel others have also, about the direction of issues relating to the conditions of modern humanity. The record is in some way a soundtrack to an awakening about what it means to be a thinking and conscious human. I sense a lot of people out there are slumbering, lulled by the ever-growing range of distractions that occupy time and potentially may end up eroding the opportunity for a whole manner of experiences that require something more than a passing glance or a momentary acknowledgement. This record is me yelling, with whatever I have inside me, and I hope some people choose to join in the chorus of discontent.
I was very interested to read that three separate live performances – from Earth, Swans and My Bloody Valentine – had a big effect on you and channeled the new music into a certain direction. I would love for you to recount these concerts and the inspiration you drew (and continually to draw) from these like-minded artists?
LE: I have to say there were a couple weeks last February where I really was so fortunate to get to hear two bands I have respected for a great many years. Both SWANS and MBV were in Australia for an ATP related event, thought I caught each of them at sideshows. The thing about these two groups, and also Earth whom I caught at another time during the making of the record, is they have come to understand the possible force of sound off the stage and how that can be used to create a physiological transformation in an audience.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the body as ear, sound is such a seductive force, it penetrates our flesh and vibrates us, it makes us feel it and it’s easy to forget this when we’re spending more and more time with headphones on. The pleasure of music isn’t just for the mind, it’s for the body too. So specifically the live concerts I experienced reconciled this as something I wanted to try and invest into this record and certainly into the way the music transcend the record into a live setting. There’s just something so unsettling and evocative about intense sound pressure and low frequency saturation – that sense you almost need to gasp for air, that the words you might choose to speak are choked the moment they try to escape you mouth, this I love.
My current favourite is the sublime tour-de-force ‘Another Body’, a piece of music that is filled with human emotion. Can you discuss the construction/layering of this track, Lawrence? Also, it’s the aesthetic quality of the record that comes into sharp focus here. What process of the music-making process proves to be the most challenging or time-consuming?
LE: It’s interesting as ‘Another Body’ was actually one of the very last pieces to come into focus for the record. The first section of the track, that kind of oceanic tidal wave of distortion was something I happened upon almost as the album was done, it was from a very, very early session for ‘Wilderness’ that I just happened to revisit as I had no memory of what those recordings were let alone sounded like. After discovering that section, the album was really in its final stages of taking shape. ‘Another Body’ is kind of two co-existing pieces, one spilling out of the other. There are several pieces on the record that, during the process of making the album, basically became entangled and in some cases one consumed the other entirely.
For me, almost all of the music I make is process driven and more often than not context driven. Albums like ‘Kiri No Oto’, ‘The Peregrine’ and this one are very much drawing directly on the contextual ideas directly and the music takes much of its aesthetic qualities from that. This record particularly, given the sense of feedback, iteration, erasure and reflection, really does bare the marks of process. What may have started as melodic is lost in iteration, resulting in a shimmering distant harmonic shadow of what was originally recorded.
You have produced records for a wide array of awe-inspiring artists, ranging from the psych-folk ensemble, Tenniscoats to Iceland’s Ben Frost. I would love to gain an insight into the role of producer and how you set about producing an artist’s work? For example, does the process differ significantly depending on the artist and type of music that is being made?
LE: I love collaboration, in all its varied and murky forms. I count myself fortunate to have had the chance to work with a bunch of musicians who I feel create work that is utterly their own. People like Tenniscoats for example, they are truly wonders to me. You can give them anything and they can make it musical. I’ve watched them pull melody out of the metal grill of a heater, actually that melody is on ‘Temporacha’, which was one of the projects we worked on together. They have such a natural way with music, whatever they come in contact with becomes a tool for beauty and song. This astounds me, as is not really an affinity I share, though I wish I might.
As for folks like Ben Frost, I’ve always been a huge supporter and fan of what he does. He is one of those people who is hell bent on making an impact with music and is tireless at making that happen, I respect that determination so much. I’ve had the pleasure of being a catalytic collaborator on his records, contributing parts or something like with AURORA more addressing some structural and arrangement/timbral questions. We had a great time together last year when he visited working on that record and in fact Ben offered some invaluable commentary for ‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ on the final morning he was here. There are a number of musicians who I would call dear friends and certainly Ben is amongst those.
Take me back to your earliest musical memory? How soon did you realize the importance of music in your life?
LE: I’m not sure there is a moment, an early one that is, where I suddenly realized music was going to be a big part of my day to day. I do however clearly recall the first times I thought about sound in a serious way. When I was a little kid I’d go bird watching with my dad at this derelict section of our old port. It was a large stretch of abandoned grasslands and swamp. In these swamps was a bird called a Reed Warbler, seriously this bird has a call that sounds like a Synthi AKS, it’s just mind blowing when it gets going. Anyway, they generally hide deep in the reeds and are camouflaged, so what my father would say is “close your eyes, listen, locate the general space where the bird is and then open your eyes”. I didn’t necessarily think about it at the time, but this was really the first moment I understood how sound functions, how it creates space and dimension.
Music was more of an incremental incursion into my life. As a kid I listened to a lot of classical music, as that’s what my parents listened to on the radio. As I got a little older I started listened to the Beach Boys and a lot of music from the 60s, which I guess reflected the age of other people in my family. It wasn’t until I was about 13 that I started to get really deeply into music. Around that time I started trading tapes, then I started a fanzine when I was 15 and then my first label when I was 17. My first release was a compilation tape of lots of bands that no one had heard of, outside of underground niche zines. It was in the days where making a CD was still crazy expensive here in Australia. That feels like a long time ago now.
Discuss the improvisational aspect to your music. The range of collaborations is quite staggering, from the likes of Terry Riley, Keith Whitman to Damo Suzuki among many others. How does the act of collaborating feed into your own solo work?
LE: As I mentioned I consider myself very fortunate to have a chance to perform with a great many people over the past decade or so. Some of those artists were in fact central to me developing Room40 and my own practice, their support was very crucial as back when I started Australia was still a long way away from the rest of the world. At least that’s how it felt.
People like David Toop, Scanner, David Shea and DJ Olive were very generous to me and offered me some amazing opportunities to flex some of my sonic curiosity. During the early 2000s actually I was also really focused on improvisation stemming from what was happening in Tokyo’s epic minimal approach to sound structure and space. I had the chance to perform at Offsite in Tokyo and formed bonds with a great many musicians there who I deeply respect.
The people you mention, Keith and Terry, actually that was during the same performance. Terry, Keith and I made an improvised work together. It was really a pleasure to be able to perform with them both. I respect both of them greatly, each have really contributed some amazing sound over the years and continue to inspire!
I think what collaboration offers, at its best, is the opportunity to reconsider your processes, your ears even. None of us hear the same way and working with other musicians opens you to a new perspective, a new vista if you’re willing to perceive it. There’s been so many wonderful collaborations over the years, Slow Walkers with Liz Harris was a pleasure and right now I am working on a new project with my dear friend Jamie Stewart. This one is really great brutal fun!
What’s next for the Room40 label, Lawrence? What releases can we look forward to?
LE: The rest of the year is looking pretty full for both Room40 and A Guide To Saints, our tape label. On Room40 there’s new editions from Chris Herbert, Steve Roden & Stephen Vitiello, Ueno who plays guitar for Tenniscoats and also Eugene Carchesio’s archival series continues. With A Guide there’s some new editions from Daniel Rejmer, Tom Smith/Marcus Whale and also from Ross Manning, who is a genius from here in Brisbane. Should be fun! In 2015 it’s our 15th anniversary, so we’re going to have a pretty big year I think.
‘Wilderness Of Mirrors’ by Lawrence English is available now on Room40.
It Makes No Difference [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Tindersticks ‘Opening’ (‘35 Rhums’ OST / Lucky Dog)
02. Townes Van Zandt ‘I’ll Be Here in the Morning’ (Charly)
03. Roger McGuinn & Calexico ‘One More Cup Of Coffee’ (I’m Not There’ OST / Columbia)
04. Miles Davis ‘Generique’ (‘Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud’ OST / Fontana)
05. Giant Sand ‘Corridor’ (Loose)
06. Lee Hazlewood With Suzi Jane Hokum ‘Sand’ (Ace)
07. The Handsome Family ‘Fallen Peaches’ (Loose / Carrot Top)
08. Mose Allison ‘Young Man’s Blues’ (Prestige)
09. Marion Gaines Singers ‘Grandma’s Hands’ (Soul Jazz)
10. The Brothers & Sisters ‘All Along The Watchtower’ (Light In The Attic)
11. Sonny & Linda Sharrock ‘Black Woman’ (Water)
12. Calexico ‘Low Expectations’ (Quarterstick)
13. ABBC ‘En Route To The Blanchisserie’ (Wabana Ore Limited)
14. Joanna Newsom ‘This Side Of The Blue’ (Drag City)
15. Willy Vlautin & Paul Brainard ‘A Confession To T.J. Watson’ (‘Northline’ OST / Faber)
16. The Band ‘It Makes No Difference’ (Capitol)
17. Mica Levi ‘Love’ (‘Under The Skin’ OST / Milan, Rough Trade)
18. The Langley Schools Music Project ‘God Only Knows’ (Basta)
19. Lhasa ‘Is Anything Wrong’ (Warner Bros.)
20. Tindersticks ‘Closing’ (‘35 Rhums’ OST / Lucky Dog)
The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.
Fractured Air. The universe is making music all the time.