Interview with Astrud Steehouder & Nina Bosnic, Paper Dollhouse.
“I feel like the experience and the record took us on a journey, like it had an intention with us rather than the other way round.”
Words: Mark Carry
I recall first discovering Paper Dollhouse sometime in 2012. The mesmerizing debut album ‘A Box Painted Black’– released on Bird Records, an offshoot from UK’s Finders Keepers Records in 2011 – carved a unique world of cinematic homespun folk creations that contained haunting vocals, acoustic guitar, found sounds, electronic manipulations and slide projector as seamless textures embedded the dark minimal gothic folk framework. Paper Dollhouse began as the alias for London-based artist Astrud Steehouder that would later evolve into a collaborative project with visual artist Nina Bosnic. The resultant sound is masterfully captured on the group’s utterly transcendent sophomore full-length release ‘Aeonflower’, which retains the dense, cinematic dimensions of its predecessor while unleashing a more expansive and intense experience for the listener to get beautifully lost in.
A wide range of enthralling sounds is dotted across ‘Aeonflower’ from the gorgeous opening synth-based odyssey of ‘Oracle’, the spoken-word dance opus ‘Helios’ to the meditative slow-burning lament of ‘Your Heart’ and closing guitar-based ambient gem ‘Siren’. The album’s ten immaculate tracks inhabit an ethereal dimension of fragile beauty, pain, loss and hope where crushing noise scapes and cinematic techno is interwoven with brooding synthesizer-based laments and deeply affecting vocals.
‘Aeonflower’ is out now on Night School Records and Bird Records.
Interview with Astrud Steehouder & Nina Bosnic, Paper Dollhouse.
Congratulations to you both on the incredible new full-length, ‘Aeonflower’, which sees you explore more electronic-oriented soundscapes in comparison to the more homespun folk-based 2011 debut ‘A Box Painted Black’. One of the aspects I love about ‘Aeonflower’ is the ethereal dimension these new beguiling songs effortlessly inhabit. Please discuss for me the making of ‘Aeonflower’ and your aims from the outset in what you wanted to achieve?
Astrud Steehouder: The record took a long time to complete from inception to close but it needed that sense of duration to reflect a cycle of sorts, and the kind of depths that are not daily scenarios. It’s ethereal in the sense that it has a dark otherworldly quality but it’s equally just the sum of experience pushed through a filter of somewhat swamplike glittering rain. It’s got a very stark Greek/ Roman myth vibe which kind of came into being when naming the tracks. That part was deliberate as to me it seemed at that point like dark islands and mermaids. The tracks were pulled together like a detailed patchwork quilt, the fabric of each episode and emotions spanning time, following affecting events. Some tracks were recorded in my bedroom, some in Nina’s, some in isolation, some recorded purposefully in the studio, some reworked. Then Matt wove it together with the tape loops on the suite on side B which complete it in my opinion. The intention was to create a spectral, dark pop record. I think it goes way down into the depths in places but I think a challenge and discomfort is important in places.
Nina Bosnic: For me it was definitely a cycle, it captures and weaves together so much of both our lives over a long period of time. When I heard the record for the first time in its entirety I felt like I had not heard it before and it really affected me. It is strange. Some recordings on it are from years ago and from many different places and stages of my life and the record encapsulates so much for us. My grandmother’s voice is on the record, when she was alive, as is my mother’s singing which I recorded in our house a few years ago. All these sounds and voices are weaved deeply within, swelling to the surface every now and again. I feel like the experience and the record took us on a journey, like it had an intention with us rather than the other way round.
The new record contains a wide range of enthralling sounds that encompass an entire spectrum of utterly compelling sounds from the gorgeous opening synth-based odyssey of ‘Oracle’, the spoken-word dance opus ‘Helios’ to the meditative slow-burning lament of ‘Your Heart’ and closing ambient gem ‘Siren’. Please discuss the instrumentation used on ‘Aeonflower’? Can you shed some light on the electronic processes utilized throughout the record?
AS: I was conscious that I didn’t want it to be purely electronic because it would have felt disingenuous at this stage to solely rely on backing tracks and vocals to perform. The guitar provides a heavy grain which goes really well with Nina’s synth I think. ‘Your Heart’ was created at home with layered synths and vocals on my massive Yamaha keyboard, as were ‘Black Flowers’ and ‘Oracle’. It has some really nice synth bass sounds which sound great with delay and reverbs and they’re really warm. They’re all played manually, no midi or quantising. The drum hits on ‘Black Flowers’ are just pressing the drum patches by key which gives it that sort of manual, false quality which I really like.
‘Helios’ was originally a demo I made using the Boom drum machine in Pro Tools and my keyboard for an earlier mix for a site called Discrepant. You can compare the two versions to hear what Matt did with it; he broke the kick apart to make the whole thing sound much more pounding. There’s an additional slowed down siren at the end where he hung a mic out the window to capture a police car. We sat there all night with the mic but he got it in the end, no reason for it, it just sounds good. ‘Stand’, ‘Siren’, ‘Diane’ and ‘In The Sun’ were tracked in a studio.
The vocals in ‘Psyche’ are phone recordings from one of Nina’s friends in Bosnia; she has such a great accent, it works so well for that track. ‘Diane’ was built with a single synth and vocal recordings straight into the sampler using all the inbuilt effects. Nina’s vocal is processed through a Boss VE 20 pedal- we wanted a kind of compressed, metallic sound to contrast with the ultra-ethereal vox throughout. Matt uncovered loads of tape loops on old tape machines and added those at the end of the record. They’re from a different era. They work really well. We had them going round a gin bottle in the hallway at one point. It reminds me a little of the Caretaker record ‘An Empty Bliss Beyond This World’, the dislocated warmth of it.
Please recount for me writing and recording the captivating track ‘Helios’. The spoken word segment works so wonderfully. Lyrically, I wonder would this aspect of the music form the song or would the words come afterwards?
AS: I was on my may home from work, I was on the tube platform and I heard it in my head so I went back home, wrote it down then built a techno-ish track from it the same night. I layered up the vocals and added delay but now Nina’s doing them it sounds much richer. I like that some of the lyrics are pretty unusual for this kind of sounding material, it’s kind of mundane or cold but very metaphorical and heavy. The words clearly have dual meaning also.
NB: We practice this song in our bedroom singing into hairbrushes and dancing, it is ritual. And somehow, naturally, when performing Helios live, we are always looking at each other and taking it so seriously. I think the music and repetition of the lyrics kind of hypnotises us and pulls us in. But remembering our hairbrushes it makes us laugh and I think it must appear strange and unsettling to watch.
A myriad of ideas and illuminating spirit of invention lies at the heart of the Paper Dollhouse creations. Can you discuss the minimalist approach you have developed since the formidable debut? A tight musical telepathy seems to exist between you both; showcased beautifully across ‘Aeonflower’s sprawling sonic canvas. Can you reminisce also on first crossing paths with one another and how this collaboration has blossomed over the last few years?
NB: We met when we were both seventeen. Neither of us were making music then. We talked about starting bands for fun. Our paths crossed again several years later through music. We became close friends about five years ago and shortly afterwards started working together creatively in various capacities. At the time we were both involved in other music and art projects and it was so natural to feed off each other, inspire one another and to develop a desire to work together.
AS: I wanted to work with Nina because she’s not afraid, she’s highly creative and understands the importance of a minimal approach when required. She’s a really good critic and stops me approaching things or presenting things in a way that’s too contrived. We’re really good friends and from early on understood visuals and atmosphere in a similar way, understanding the loss and the beauty in things. That said, I don’t want to convey complete sadness and though there will probably always be a melancholic tone to our music, I think a pop record is possible.
NB: This summer will be a time for a weird pop record with French vocals and lilac coloured artwork. Less sadness and more playfulness and light.
One of the great hallmarks of the new record is the extremes of mood (and sound) the music unleashes. For example, white noise, drone sounds, industrial and synth pop flourishes are somehow interwoven together, forming a deeply affective and highly emotive journey. What were the challenges in the recording stages?
AS: Definitely creating consistency throughout a set of tracks that had been recorded in completely different ways and were very different in style. Matt really nurtured this record and let it breathe but transformed it into a set of pieces that lie together, they make sense. The track order was important and there was some careful editing to squeeze the tracks onto one side of vinyl. I was adamant I wanted ‘Helios’ to sound like the demo version but far better and he managed to reproduce it in a way that still sounds like us rather than him. That’s something we discussed and I think now it sounds like the version in my head, which must be a big challenge for a producer.
‘Siren’ is a stunningly beautiful ambient exploration that serves the fitting closer to ‘Aeonflower’. Please discuss the construction (or deconstruction) of this beautiful closer.
AS: This began as an instrumental, fogged out guitar track with loads of reverb and delay and no vocals. There’s a version on a Resonance session I did solo with Alex Tucker a while back. Over time in rehearsals we experimented with vocals and Nina added synths which really give it a subtle gravitas which weight and balance it, that was missing before. It has a heavy noise element in fact which belies the super ethereal vocal. It’s where I get to use some of my guitar pedals. I harmonised with myself on the recording so it’s kind of improvised. You unconsciously know your natural timings so it’s easier to sing the phrases again. I think the drone descent at the end was an inspired production choice.
What were your earliest musical memories? I wonder are there certain records out there you feel have served a profound impact on you?
AS: Not sure of the earliest though I was very into Jean Michelle Jarre, Beverley Craven (also the Happy hardcore version) and Starlight Express soundtrack especially AC/DC. Opus 3. The Funeral March, I used to try to improvise the chords of that on the piano when I was about 8 so I kind of had my own version going on.
NB: My earliest musical memories are of the Bosnian folk songs my parents played and sang at gatherings with their friends, they still do this. This type of singing and playing music had a profound effect on me. There was a time when I couldn’t sing with them, but now I do. It’s liberating. There is so much history and folklore, so many mixed moods and emotions connected to the ritual of playing this old music. There is a lot of improvisation too, and trance like qualities which is something I love and take a lot of inspiration from.
‘Aeonflower’ is out now on Night School Records and Finders Keepers Records.
To buy the new record ‘Aeonflower’: Night School (LP) and Bird/ Finders Keepers (Tape/ DL):
Forthcoming Paper Dollhouse tour dates are as follows:
April 25th: The Hello Goodbye Show, Resonance FM (Live)
May 2nd: Fuse Arts Space, Bradford
May 3rd: The Islington Mill, Salford for SFTOC
May 6th: The Lexington, London (with A Grave With No Name)
Interview with Mark Nelson, Pan American.
“In some ways I make music to try and open that illusive channel-a kind of sensual meeting of memory and emotion: remembered and misremembered, vivid and unreliable.”
Words: Mark Carry
Over the past two decades, the seminal works of American sound sculptor Mark Nelson – across various musical projects, both solo and collaborative – has ceaselessly crafted breath-taking and shape shifting ambient soundscapes. From his work with Robert Donne and Carter Brown in seminal ambient-rock band Labradford to his collaborative project with Labradford-mate Donne and drummer extraordinaire Steven Hess (Locrian, Fennesz, Haptic and others) in Anjou who masterfully combine modular synthesis, Max/MSP programming and live instrumentation. Since 1998’s Pan American (Nelson’s solo project) self-titled debut – released on the prestigious Chicago-based Kranky imprint – Nelson’s resolutely unique and highly emotive ambient electronica music has constantly pushed the sonic envelope and generated new possibilities through the art of sound. Similar to label-mate Loscil (aka Vancouver’s Scott Morgan), the slowly evolving ambient creations of Pan American possesses a rare magic, intensity and sheer emotion that reveals new meaning and significance upon each revisit.
Earlier this year marked the special release of ‘Rue Corridor’, the latest Pan American EP and the second instalment of Geographic North’s Sketch For Winter series, Nelson creates swirling and hypnotic textural rhythms and luminous tones. The utterly transcendent opener ‘The Terrace’ is a joyous sonic exploration where elements such as space, time and existence fade into full focus. The soothing electronica and ambient pulses transports me back to first discovering the electronic milestones of the early 2000’s from the likes of Ulrich Schnauss, Fennesz, Manual and a host of others (which inevitably includes Pan American’s ‘The River Made No Sound’ from 2002.
‘Sketch for Winter II: Rue Corridor’ is out now on Geographic North.
Interview with Mark Nelson, Pan American.
Firstly, please discuss the beautiful ‘Rue Corridor’ cassette release as part of the Geographic North Sketch For Winter series. It’s a very beautiful release with your trademark textural rhythms and slowly evolving soundscapes. What do you feel is the narrative or context behind this latest Pan American release?
Mark Nelson: Thank you for the kind words. With the Pan American music, there’s always a bit of a conversation and sometimes tension between the acoustic songs and the more electronic ones. It’s not quite that black and white-but I tend to be (in my own mind) emphasizing one or the other at any given point in time. After a long period of focusing more on guitar, I started working on some sequenced based music again-deliberately trying to push tempos a bit from where I usually end up-sometimes I worry I stick to close to a comfort zone in terms of meter and texture-anyway, as some of that effort seemed to be producing some interesting results, I was contacted by Bobby at Geographic North. Everything about the label and the people involved vibed in a way that really appealed to me. Beautiful design, a well thought out approach and a laid back kind of intelligence and seriousness comes across in what they do. The timing was right and I’m proud of how it turned out.
The opening track ‘The Terrace’ is a true tour-de-force where a myriad of magical moments gradually fade in and out of focus, for example the drums & percussion (wonderfully added several minutes in) or the electronic glitches that form the composition’s vital pulse. Can you please shed some light on the construction of a multi-layered composition such as ‘The Terrace’? Was there a certain element that formed the composition’s starting point?
MN: You know, the starting point was just trying to write a faster sort of song built on rhythm but without traditional drum kit elements framing the beat. So it comes from a series of synthesizer sequences. It was mostly made using a very basic 16 step software sequencer and some other elements, ultimately including guitar and acoustic cymbals.
A plethora of Pan American records have been released on the ever-dependable Chicago independent label, Kranky. I would love for you to discuss how you feel you have developed as a composer over the years, Mark? For instance, in terms of collecting sounds and recording, does the process alter significantly between albums?
MN: It has a bit-I started trying to avoid sounding like Labradford. So certain influences were sort of off-limits for Pan American in the beginning. Certainly working with electronic tools-sequencers, synthesizers, drum machines, samplers has been a big part of it. Moving a bit on from playing guitar in a band and writing and recording in a collaborative band setting. Ultimately, though I really prefer collaborations and have tried to introduce more outside influences into the music. It’s not a particularly intellectual or planned-out approach. I’ve called it in the past a very slow-moving improvisation, and I guess that’s still mostly how the approach feels to me.
Please take me back to your earliest musical memories. Growing up, what was your first exposure to sound and music? Also, what instruments would you learn to play first?
MN: I was not particularly musical as a young kid, but I think I did always feel an emotional connection to sound-we lived in Switzerland for 4 or 5 years when I was growing up in a smallish village outside Zurich. I can still feel the church bells at night, train sounds, dogs and sheep-even then without intellectualizing it the ambient sounds defined for me what life felt like.
When we moved back to the U.S we lived in a suburb right outside Washington DC. This was the mid/late 80’s so perfect time and place to get into hardcore and punk. I was never interested in that scene though, either culturally or musically. That scene built crucial networks in the US for touring, record production and distribution and promotion though, so I’m certainly indebted to the infrastructure they built, but the music has never appealed to me.
In high school there was a radio DJ on Saturday and Sunday mornings on a public station out of Howard University played an incredible blues show-weaving brilliant music selections with stories about his friends and neighbourhood. I’m sure that guy is a legend and people into blues and roots music in the DC area know who he was. I had tapes of his shows for years but have lost them now. I worked as lifeguard and would drive home at 9 or 10 at night listening to go-go on the radio-another great DJ called The Moonman. He would play this incredible dense, dance music and talk about parties in parts of DC and Maryland I’d never heard of. So that part of my life is defined in sense-memory by driving and listening and smelling chlorine. I still swim a lot and come to think of it, music does always sound best when my hair smells like chlorine.
I liked old rock n roll-Elvis, Buddy Holly and got into post punk as it got rootsy-REM was a big one for me-the Reckoning LP, Los Lobos, too-there first EP-that led to things like X which led to Wire and so on. Somewhere in there I started playing guitar.
I am intrigued with ambient artists and the vast libraries of sounds you must continually collect and in turn, sculpt from. I feel there is a lovely parallel between yourself and labelmate Scott Morgan (aka Loscil). What do you feel has been the overarching theme to your work to date?
MN: Certainly flattered to be thought of in a similar light to Scott. He’s building a lovely body of music and is a true Gentleman. I don’t really have too much of a fetish for my sounds though-I don’t take particularly good care of them. Apart from some key guitar elements-a reverb, volume pedal-sounds come and go.
Overarching theme? No. but a returning emphasis on emotional moments and presence- in life that often don’t seem meaningful but end up defining certain spheres of memoryspace.
A physical environment of association and overtone is probably how I would define what I try to create.
A small example-answering these questions and knowing they’re coming from Cork, Ireland-I have a memory of Labradford’s brief and lovely visit to your city. We played at a university venue and I have a vivid memory of a brief exchange with the promoter-I noticed from a poster that Paul Motian had played there the previous week so I asked the promoter about it. I can still occupy that fleeting, moment as he answered but not from my original perspective, more in a 3D floating way seeing the venue stairs behind him and his laugh and the sound of people milling around the bar wearing heavy dark coats. In some ways I make music to try and open that illusive channel-a kind of sensual meeting of memory and emotion: remembered and misremembered, vivid and unreliable.
Unfortunately, Paul Motian apparently treated everyone like shit!
I would love for you to discuss the field recordings and sounds of this nature you use in your own ambient soundscapes. Also, take me back to your first explorations with sound. Did you begin with tape devices to record your musical ideas? I can imagine this particular space in time was a very exciting time?
MN: I have to speak to the cassette 4 track recorder! They were a total revolution for their time and for me. Before unlimited hard drive space like now the cassette 4 track allowed so many people to work as their own producers by allowing multi tracking. I had 3 or 4 of them and in terms of music being new and thrilling and something I began to think I could maybe really make my own-the cassette 4 track was so crucial. Every now and then I still look them up on eBay-there was a Marantz model I particularly coveted. I’ve almost bought one a couple of times in the last 3 or 4 years-but maybe some dreams are more alive if they remain elusive! In my world there’s a special chair in paradise for the inventor of the 4 track.
What projects do you have in the pipeline, Mark?
MN: New Anjou!
What records have served a profound impact on your own musical path do you feel? What records have you been heavily immersed in these past few months?
MN: Maybe a moment for the record labels-I’ve been lucky to have the association and personal friendship with Kranky. Feel the same way about the release on Geographic North. As the business side evolves, I really hope labels find a way to survive-although it’s a pretty bleak picture at the moment. Labels have been critical to my understanding of music and finding a path and links-Sun records to Slash, the mystery for a US kid reading about Rough Trade and Factory. I still think that way-last couple weeks revisiting Mego-Farmers Manual, Pure, Hecker, Fennesz of course. Also spent today listening to Blood and Fire lp’s-so crucial to me-Horace Andy, The Congos. Newer sounds? I like Mary Halvorson. Stefan Nemeth solo and with Lokai. Drawing a blank beyond that at the moment-there’s lots can’t think of them. Songhoy Blues is probably tops on my playlist at the moment-wicked guitar playing and thrilling music.
‘Sketch for Winter II: Rue Corridor’ is out now on Geographic North.
Interview with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.
“I try and always have in my mind, ” I wonder what will happen if I try this…” For me, if curiosity is the driving force when I make music, it’s always a good time.”
—Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Words: Mark Carry
The Italian American music pioneer Suzanne Ciani has described Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s music as “sheer poetry…showing mastery of her medium”. The Bay Area composer’s debut full-length, ‘Euclid’ – released back in January on the ever-dependable Western Vinyl imprint – reveals a plethora of scintillating soundscapes that forges an utterly captivating voyage into new horizons of possibilities. Primarily written on a Buchla Music Easel Synthesizer, ‘Euclid’ contains seamless layers of immaculate sounds, from the album’s vital pulse of Smith’s synthesizer instrument to wordless vocals and electronic wizardry. The musician’s timeless creation draws a lovely parallel to musical luminaries such as Laurie Spiegel, Suzanne Ciani and Terry Riley that further pushes the sonic envelope and music’s endless possibilities.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s formative years were spent communing with nature on Orcas Island in the northwest region of Washington state. Undoubtedly, the sum of these experiences with the natural world is transplanted into the medium of music, masterfully sculpted by Smith (and etched across ‘Euclid’s sprawling canvas of otherworldly sound). Later, Smith left the island to attend Berklee College of Music, where she studied composition and sound engineering. During this time, Smith was one of the core members of indie folk band Ever Isles but it was a chance encounter with a Buchla 100 Synthesizer that changed the course of Smith’s music path.
Part A of ‘Euclid’ were initially structured using Euclidean geometry, an idea which Smith explored while attending a class at the San Francisco Conservatory. The stunning album opener ‘Careen’ and the utterly transcendent ‘Stunts’ offers just a glimpse into the disparate sounds on display throughout the debut record. In contrast, part B comprises twelve short pieces, (appropriately) entitled ‘Labyrinth’- originally composed as new soundtracks to old silent films – that brings to mind the serenity and natural beauty of Orcas Island through its kaleidoscope of visionary tones and textures. ‘Euclid’ is a towering achievement where evocative experiences are rendered into vital being.
‘Euclid’ is out now on Western Vinyl.
Interview with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.
Congratulations Kaitlyn on the stunning debut solo record, ‘Euclid’; it’s an utterly captivating and mesmerising sonic voyage into new horizons of possibilities. Firstly, can you please discuss the Buchla Music Easel synthesizer from which ‘Euclid’ was primarily centred on. What are the possibilities you see in this particular instrument and please also discuss the different techniques utilized (or the central process you have developed with this instrument) that forms the basis of this exceptional debut full-length offering?
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Thank you for your kind words. The Buchla Music Easel is a Modular Synthesizer made by Don Buchla in the 70’s. It was designed to be a complete performance instrument in the size of carry-on luggage. It is difficult to discuss the possibilities of this instrument because as I feel with all modular synthesizers, there are endless possibilities. I am always experiencing novelty when I interact with one.
I was very interested to read how part A of ‘Euclid.’ was initially structured using euclidean geometry, an area you explored at the San Francisco Conservatory. Listening to these six multi-layered compositions, one striking aspect is indeed the three-dimensional shape and sphere of musical imagination exhibited throughout. Can you please talk me through part A of ‘Euclid’’s journey and the relationship between euclidean geometry and sound exploration?
KAS: Sure, ‘Careen’ (the first track on ‘Euclid’) was creating with the shape of a Vellela in mind. Not sure if you have ever seen one, but where I live they cover the beach at certain times of the year. So my first process was to count how many aspects made up that shape. In that particular case, I counted 78. So that was how many tracks / parts I was going to create for that song. Next I assigned each arc and straight line a different note value and rhythm value. Then I would see where they intersect and what harmony that would create and use it as a guide to writing my parts. This process would change for each shape / song.
In terms of the recording of ‘Euclid’ what were the recording sessions like? There are so many layers of immaculate sounds with such varied sounds from wordless vocals to electronic loops and synthesizers, did it prove challenging to find the right balance to these songs? It’s clear there is a beautiful sense of equilibrium where moments of transcendence are dotted like stars across a night sky. I would love to know what precise equipment and tools you had at your disposal in the studio?
KAS: I had a ribbon mic, laptop, motu interface, buchla music easel, my voice, and the sounds of objects around me. The recording sessions were A LOT of fun. They always are. I try and always have in my mind, ” I wonder what will happen if I try this…” For me, if curiosity is the driving force when I make music, it’s always a good time. And allowing days or weeks between listening sessions when I mix is key.
My current favourite must be ‘Stunts’. I particularly love the harmonies and celestial pop sounds that are masterfully woven together. It feels meditative and a piece of music belonging to a space in time we have not yet arrived upon. Can you reminisce please writing and recording this track and the layers of sounds that comprise ‘Stunts’. I wonder is the Buchla instrument always the starting point for each of the musical compositions and a case of adding more elements at a later stage?
KAS: That song in particular has a lot of sounds I love in my house. I have a homemade water carbonator that I used a lot in that song. I also wanted to use a classic pop chord progression for that one.
Part B is a collection of twelve short pieces; bringing in turn, new dimensions and aesthetics to the album as a whole. The ‘Labyrinth’ pieces were originally composed as new soundtracks to old silent films. I’m immediately intrigued by the beauty of this creative project (even in writing before ever hearing a musical note!) I would love to know what these particular silent films were and if there were certain scenes that resonated powerfully for you? An ethereal feel radiates throughout and feels like one cohesive whole or one large mood piece (rather than many short pieces).
KAS: I actually just recently added the videos that used to my website www.kaitlynaureliasmith.com
They can be found on the Euclid page. My personal favourite is one of hang gliding.
Please discuss the sources of inspiration behind your singular works, Kaitlyn?
KAS: Always nature and curiosity.
What new avenues do you want to explore next? In terms of the Buchla potential, are there certain aspects of this instrument you want to further explore and experiment with on forthcoming projects?
KAS: I am excited about blending my work with orchestral instruments and synthesizers together. I look forward to collaborating with other composers, synthesists, film makers, and dancers.
‘Euclid’ is out now on Western Vinyl.
Interview with Cécile Schott, Colleen.
“…for this album there would be a general theme of trying to speak about the human brain, the mind and basically things that connect us all; these inner struggles, inner demons – if you want to call them that – and just, in general, the inner human life is so rich and complex and also it’s just impossible to really understand it and that’s what is really fascinating.”
Words: Mark Carry, Artwork: Craig Carry
The Paris-born musician Cécile Schott has been making music as Colleen for over a decade now: beginning with a string of much-loved records for The Leaf Label (debut 2003 album ‘Everyone Alive Wants Answers’, 2005’s ‘The Golden Morning Breaks’ and 2007’s ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’, as well as 2006’s ‘Colleen Et Les Boîtes À Musique’, (an E.P. originally created for Atelier de Création Radiophonique as a commission from France Culture). After a four-year break, Colleen made her long-awaited return to music in 2013 with the release of her album ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ via London-based label Second Language, its eleven songs featuring, for the first time, Schott’s own voice as well as a new-found love for Jamaican music and rhythm. Colleen’s hugely anticipated fifth studio album ‘Captain Of None’ has just been released by Chicago-based label Thrill Jockey Records, representing the crowning jewel of Schott’s treasured works of art thus far.
The first glimpses of the San Sebastian-based artist’s new material came during 2013’s ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ tour, in the form of the shape-shifting creations: ‘Captain Of None’, ‘I’m Kin’ and ‘Lighthouse’. The scintillating dub-infused rhythms interwoven with Schott’s mesmerising voice is a pure joy to behold as vast seas of tender beauty ascend into the human space. I was fortunate to witness Colleen’s live performance on two separate occasions during 2013 – Dublin’s Unitarian Church during the early summer and Cork’s Triskel Christchurch in early November – that were dotted with an endless array of utterly transcendent moments created in Schott’s own little corner of the world.
The hypnotic notes of Schott’s trusted treble viola da gamba (a baroque instrument with gut strings) formed the foundation to ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’s sonic trajectory – in accordance with Schott’s use of vocals for the very first time – that would be further explored on ‘Captain Of None’ to wondrous effect. Unlike ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ – which incorporated a wide palette of instrumentation (for instance, the use of organ on ‘Humming Fields’ or clarinet on ‘Moonlit Sky’) – ‘Captain Of None’ limits the instrumentation to Schott’s voice and treble viola da gamba (with the exception on the melodica-led, Augustus Pabo-inspired ‘Salina Stars’). The album’s eight sublime creations further evolve, transform and ceaselessly mutate due to the compelling production ideas and wholly unique artistic vision of Schott, who creates, in turn, a sonic marvel of a record. Inspired by Jamaican music, the dub-inspired techniques (basslines provided by a Moogerfooger delay pedal) utilized throughout ‘Captain Of None’ transports the listener to the further reaches of one’s mind: a lost labyrinth of time.
In Lloyd Bradley’s comprehensive history of Jamaican music, ‘Bass Culture’, one particular chapter describes Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studio (Schott’s own San Sebastian-based studio has been lovingly dubbed the White Ark). Leroy Sibbles describes Perry as “an explorer going into the future of the music” and I feel those very words epitomises both the ambitious scope of ‘Captain of None’ and the breath-taking inventiveness of its author.
“The naked eye can’t see these things” sings Schott on ‘Captain Of None’s penultimate tour-de-force, ‘Eclipse’, it perhaps best describes the lyrical viewpoint of Schott since she commenced adding voice to her compositions on 2013’s ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, where both realms of the real and the imagined are simultaneously traversed and explored (in a similar vein to Liz Harris’s Grouper guise or Sibylle Baier’s beloved ‘Colour Green’, for instance).
Like a beacon of the night, ‘Captain Of None’ reveals a sense of the vulnerable and the fragile (as well as a sense of the deeply personal) which quietly lie side-by-side with the brave and the permanent. All the while to the pulse of a beautiful, beating heart.
‘Captain Of None’ is available now on Thrill Jockey Records.
Interview with Cécile Schott, Colleen.
Congratulations, Cécile, on the incredible new album ‘Captain of None’, it is very special.
Cécile Schott: Thank you.
First of all, it’s great to see the songs you performed on ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ tour – the likes of ‘Captain Of None’, ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘I’m Kin’ – present on the new album and to hear how they have evolved over the past year or so.
CS: Yes, it’s true. It’s actually one of the first albums I’ve done where most of the songs – well, half of the songs on the album – were born as live songs as I was basically preparing the live show for ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’. What happens usually when I rehearse is of course I am rehearsing specific songs but there is always a point when, for instance, your hand strikes another chord or maybe you just sing something to yourself and all of a sudden you realize that you have the seed for a new song. And basically the first song that was born that way was ‘Lighthouse’. When I was rehearsing for ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ live shows in 2013 and then the following summer, ‘Captain Of None’ and ‘I’m Kin’ evolved really rapidly as I was rehearsing in my studio, playing around with ideas. So it’s true it’s the first time I’ve been able to play a couple of songs from a forthcoming album before the album is released, basically. It was actually really nice at the moment of recording, I had the body of these three songs and then I was able to give them further clothes by adding little production ideas and having a more complex sound. It’s obviously easier to have a more complex and interesting sound when you are recording because you have more tools at your disposal.
That’s exactly one of the aspects that makes ‘Captain Of None’ such a compelling journey: it is the instrumentation itself and all the different layers. I think too it’s the studio set-up that you have – which you have dubbed ‘The White Ark’ in reference to Lee Perry’s ‘Black Ark’ – I would love for you to discuss the various techniques because it’s obviously an album with so many ideas where there is so many elements happening in the music.
CS: Thank you. Well basically the album is both very cohesive in the sense that there is only one stringed instrument – that’s the treble viola da gamba – and then there’s the voice and these are the two main instruments. On ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ there was treble viola da gamba, bass viola da gamba, acoustic guitar, clarinet, piano, organ, toy gamelan (basically a miniature version of a gamelan), frame drum, floor tom and other bits of percussion, and of course my voice, so it was very varied.
With this album I knew I was going to do something different because I really fell in love with the sound of the treble viola da gamba. Basically, what happened was, when I was making ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, there was a moment when I took the treble viola – and I hadn’t recorded with it yet – and then I changed its tuning and that’s how I first made the song ‘Geometría del Universo’ and then I made a couple of other songs like ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ and ‘Raven’ with it. And at that moment I knew I was really onto something because I think it’s a very, very specific sound and it led me to a way of playing that was different. So I knew from that moment that the subsequent album would be mainly focusing on this and on the voice.
Also, at the time of recording ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, I was listening with Iker [Spozio] to a lot of Jamaican music and I felt so inspired by it that I also thought that ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ was a very prepared album – in a way it’s a very controlled album in the sense that it was my comeback album, I was trying the voice which was obviously a big, big challenge for me and I was quite worried whether or not I could pull it off – and so I had to control many parameters on ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ and I think after that I needed to make an album where I could feel free – free to play, free to experiment – so from then on, I knew the album would have a kind of restricted palette of instruments but that it would be counter-balanced with my approach to producing it. And you know that’s where the Jamaican influence comes in big time even though it’s true it doesn’t sound like Jamaican music as such because obviously the instruments are different – my voice is nothing like a Jamaican singer’s voice – the point is not to even imitate the Jamaican music that I am so fond of but rather to take my inspiration from production ideas and the idea of experimenting, of playing with sound and seeing how far that can take you in terms of constructing songs, basically.
The quality of the overall sound as well where there is a very warm and organic sound from the instrumentation you use but I love too how like you mention with ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, on one level the songs are quite longer in the sense that there are extensive closing sections to many of the songs.
CS: I can talk a bit more about certain things in my set-up that have really led to the sonic identity of the album. For instance, and that’s one of the things I love about trying to develop as a musician, is that sometimes you feel that you want to do something but maybe you haven’t got the right piece of gear to do it – you know, for instance I’m not at all someone who buys lots of gear, it’s something I don’t do. At one point I had a tendency to collect instruments but now I really stopped doing that. But sometimes it’s true that acquiring a new piece of equipment can really make a big difference. I think for this album, two things happened: First, I wanted to have some basslines in my music so I researched what is called Octaver pedals on the internet and I ended up buying one. An Octaver pedal adds another octave below the original sound you are playing, so it gives you a bass sound but with the original sound still present. When I got it and started playing with it, it was like: “Oh I just can’t believe how good this is!” It was giving me a bass sound that was way better than anything I could have hoped for especially because the treble viola in itself doesn’t really have any bass. So the first big change was that I started to think in terms of basslines.
And the second big gear acquisition [laughs] was the Moogerfooger pedal. I basically got this pedal after seeing the Moogerfooger pedals in a video by American musician King Britt and I thought: “wow, these pedals look really cool” so I started to look at demo videos on the internet and I thought: “wow, this looks like something really different”. I already had lots of delay pedals but they weren’t analog pedals, just digital pedals doing emulations of analog delay. So I got one of them and you know again it was a case of not being able to believe the things that it was doing to the sound; it was completely different to everything I had in my array of pedals. So that was the second thing that started to enable different sounds to come into play on the album. And the thing about the Moogerfooger is it’s a pedal that you really have to use as if you were playing live. Basically, I was recording something and I was turning the dials on the pedals or maybe I recorded something beforehand and afterwards I would run the sound that I had recorded through the pedal and I would touch the various parameters that you have on the pedal.
For instance, a song like ‘Holding Horses’, the song is really – apart from the bassline – completely connected with the use of the Moogerfooger; all the different sounds – changes in the sounds you hear – it’s all through the Moogerfooger. Also, a song like ‘Salina Stars’, the melodica goes through the Moogerfooger and it’s what really gives those sounds and likewise for ‘Eclipse’, the voice goes through the Moogerfooger and so that was a really good moment of buying something and seeing that it’s taking you into whole new places in terms of sound, which in turn takes you to a different way of making music.
One of the first things that comes to mind is that the album feels like a live performance in the way that it takes you to the live show itself. In terms of the lyrics, I love how, for example ‘I’m Kin’, I love the beautiful imagery that is drawn from the song itself.
CS: I am a very curious person and I have an interest in so many things and one of those interests is trying to see how humans are connected across the ages, across geographical spaces and how we are connected to animals and just, in general, to the natural world that’s around us. So, I think with ‘I’m Kin’ I was trying to express this feeling of connection to other past ancient cultures including cultures that have completely vanished. I can tell you specifically for instance that the “golden ram from Iraq” is a reference to a statue that’s in the British museum; it’s a statue of a ram, it’s usually called the ‘Ram in a Thicket’ – it’s what it’s officially called, if I remember well – and I remember the first time I saw it, I was thinking wow, this is from the same place that now we only hear about because of the war in Iraq and you know this is like a birthplace and cradle of civilisation which was incredibly important to the development of the arts and so I thought that was quite interesting.
And then, afterwards, basically the song takes you from, first, it’s the connection to past civilisations and then it’s the connection to the animals; so in ‘The Odyssey’, Argos is the dog of Odysseus and when Odysseus comes back from his long journey, no one recognises him because he’s changed so much and there’s only his dog that recognises him. I remember when I read ‘The Odyssey’ I thought that was such a moving passage, I thought that there is no better example of that connection between a dog and his master. And also the next sentence of “the greyhounds hanging from the trees” – I don’t know if you’re going to understand this reference [laughs] – it’s basically a reference to the Spanish greyhounds that are used by hunters and unfortunately the hunters, once their dogs are not useful anymore for hunting or if they’re considered bad hunting dogs, they’re basically left to die in horrible conditions; they’re even tortured. It just meant a lot to say that I felt connected to the fate of the poor animal like that and then it moves onto the elements like “the rocks and the water” and when you tread on something there is this whole hidden world – insects and life underneath – like the song goes from something that is concrete and human to the world of elements and of the tiny, basically.
Again, I think the lyrics are so poignant; they feel almost like parables as you listen to the different songs.
CS: I think there are various ways of writing lyrics. For instance, I really admire people who can write lyrics that have a narrative content so, for instance, I think a real master of that kind of lyric writing is Townes Van Zandt. When you listen to a Townes Van Zandt song it’s almost like hearing a short story and it works so well and if you had to sum up the contents of his songs they would sound really, maybe cliché but his gift for narrative writing which obviously is infused with a lot of poetry is really, really strong. Or someone like Stina Nordenstam who I think has some songs that really have this sense of mysterious narrative and, unfortunately, I don’t think I am one of those kind of lyric writers. Also, I think I’m very much at the beginning of writing lyrics, you know in total I’ve written very few lyrics but I knew that for this album there would be a general theme of trying to speak about the human brain, the mind and basically things that connect us all; these inner struggles, inner demons if you want to call them that and just in general the inner human life is so rich and complex and also it’s just impossible to really understand it and that’s what is really fascinating. For instance, a song like ‘Captain Of None’ is really about that but the thing is the way I was writing the lyrics I was really trying to stay away from clichés and so when you say a parable, it’s not necessarily that I want the lyrics to be hard to understand and I don’t think that they are but it’s trying to write them in a way that hopefully will resonate with every listener and maybe every listener, when listening to the lyrics, will take something from it and maybe interpret it in his or her own way.
Staying with the song ‘Captain Of None’, I love how both the title-track of this album and ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, I think it works so beautifully that each song closes the album as well.
CS: Yeah, yeah I like the idea of maybe keeping the most important thing for the end in a way.
If one lyric comes to mind that sums up nearly the feel of the album would be the lyric “I got lost inside a dream”, it encapsulates the journey as a whole.
CS: The song is about losing touch with reality and not recognizing or understanding yourself – trying to find rest yet being unable to do so – hence the feeling of getting lost in a kind of parallel reality (a “dream”) which leaves you feeling “Captain of none and nothing”.
When you listen to the new record too you feel there is a trajectory going back to even your first album and the music boxes; there are textures and nuances present that makes you feel shades of your previous material is somehow embedded in there as well.
CS: Yeah, it’s funny I’m actually quite happy about that because, on the one hand, I’ve never made an album like this one but on the other hand it’s true that some aspects of it go back to the first album and in a way that’s quite nice. I think maybe at one point – I’ve never rejected what I’ve done in the past – but I remember when I was making ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’ I really wanted to be able to play without looping because I was thinking “Oh ok, everyone uses loopers, it’s boring; to be a real musician I need to be able to play without any background looping” so I had these kind of ideas in my head and you know I think as an artist, you do go through various phases and it’s interesting how if you let a few years pass you can change your mind completely. Well, I’ve gone back to my initial love of sampling and looping and I think that’s completely fine and also I think one of the effects of Jamaican music is that in a way Jamaican music and especially the dub productions, they really pre-date so much of the music from the end of the electronica and all subsequent electronic music. And one of the things about Jamaican music is that it’s often very basic in terms of the melodic unit: it can be the same chord for five minutes and when I realized that I was never disturbed by that, I thought well it just goes to show that it’s not about whether something is looped or sampled, if it’s a great melodic unit then yeah, it can last for ten minutes for all I know, so I was really glad to be able to just work without any preconceptions of what I should do. And I still really like that first album [‘Everyone Alive Wants Answers’] so I’m glad I was somehow able to make the circle form itself.
And what is also wonderful are the sublime instrumental cuts. I know you’ve already mentioned ‘Salina Stars’ and I love how it brings you to the likes of Augustus Pablo and the like.
CS: Absolutely. Augustus Pablo was my reference point to the song, it was almost like a little homage. It’s funny because first I thought I wasn’t going to use the melodica because I thought well that is going to sound sub-par compared to Augustus Pablo’s melodic genius but then I took it out of its case and I hadn’t touched it in years and years and then all of a sudden the song was born. And yeah I’m really glad because I think it adds variety to the album’s sound as well. Before, I said the album is only treble viola but it’s not completely true, there is also the melodica.
Actually another thing, Cécile, I didn’t realize it until recently but if you’d like to talk about first noticing the viola da gamba itself, I think it was in a French film?
CS: I think I was about fifteen when on French TV they showed ‘Tous les Matins du Monde’ by Alain Corneau. I remember watching it and just falling in love with the sound of the viola da gamba. At the time, I think maybe I had just started to play the guitar possibly, but anyway it seemed like something that you would think about but it’s never going to be for you because I don’t have a classical education. At the time I couldn’t read notes on the score and also the viola da gamba is a very expensive instrument; it’s very rare. I mean, you can find a cello quite easily but to obtain a viola da gamba is like a whole different process. So that basically stayed at the back of my mind and later on, when I took up the cello, that kind of went into the foreground a little bit until, in 2005, when I made the decision to order a viola and then so afterwards I had to wait for nine months for the viola maker to make it and then I got it in early 2006. But the treble viola da gamba, I only got it in 2009 and the interesting thing is I just wasn’t using it. I got it precisely at the moment when I went through my blank period of not feeling like making music. But afterwards, when I went back to making music, it wasn’t the easiest instrument to go to because I hadn’t really played it. So, I thought: oh, I’ve ordered the viola and it’s cost me money and it’s just lying there and I haven’t even used it until I had this revelation when I was making ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’ and I changed the tuning and so that’s the short story about the viola [laughs].
Another thing is how fantastic it is that you have your proper studio set-up – which is really like for the first time – and no longer having difficulties of only recording at night, for example with ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’? So this time for once you had your proper space.
CS: Well I have to say this album has been such a joy to make. All of my previous albums, there’s always been a challenge of some sort. If I think of the second album [‘Golden Morning Breaks’] it was the first time I was recording with real instruments and I had the so-called second album pressure on and the third album ‘Les Ondes Silencieuses’ that was a really hard one to pull off because I was going for a more minimal sound with the big viola da gamba and for that you need really good microphones, you need quite a good recording technique, so in the end I got the help of my mastering engineer at the time, Emiliano Flores: he’s also a sound engineer so thankfully he helped me to record it. But it was recorded in two weeks in an attic at his parents’ place and then I did some of the additional recording at home but it was far from ideal and kind of rushed. For ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, I had the studio but the studio had these terrible doors and windows; you could hear the sound of cars and from people coming by so I had to record the album partly in our flat here and partly in the studio at night. It was just insane and I would be so tired; it is just not good for you to work that way and it’s also quite stressful. One of my aims with this album was: “Ok, this time I’m really going to take my time and just do things well” and I was able to do it thanks to the renovation of the doors and windows of the studio that happened in late 2013. Honestly, it was amazing to go there at a normal time like 3 in the afternoon and just spend the whole afternoon until 8 in the evening recording and there is no noise and there’s light coming through the doors, it was just great you know [laughs]. My first pain-free recording, basically.
At the start of your last tour you had some new songs, I wonder do you have sketches of new songs in your head at the moment or is it too soon?
CS: I have very, very small things but to be honest I’m just concentrating on learning how to perform all the songs from the album – well seven from the eight songs on the album – I’m learning to perform them live because the thing is some of them are really easy because they already existed before the album was recorded; ‘Captain Of None’, ‘I’m Kin’ and ‘Lighthouse’ – these were pretty easy – but the other ones were made in the studio and the thing about using delays is that delay works differently in a studio setting and in a live setting: in the studio it was going into the computer and you’re basically using headphones but then it’s a different bag of tricks when you’re playing through a PA system because then the delay doesn’t react the same way. So I’m having to learn how to change the settings of the delays from how I’ve had them for the recording. And also I have to learn how to perform the songs in one go because obviously on the album, with the luxury of recording, you can always touch up on mistakes and do twenty takes if you need to. So right now I’m mostly concentrating on just that and I have a faint idea of what the next album might be like but I also think I shouldn’t rush.
I love ‘Lighthouse’ which is one of the older songs off the new album. I suppose it shows the inspiration you draw from your surroundings in San Sebastian?
CS: Absolutely. I think in a way ‘Lighthouse’ is a bit different from the rest of the album because I think it’s the only one that doesn’t really fit the thematic unit of the rest of the album because it was made much earlier. The thing is ever since I moved here I’ve always had the idea of having at least one song that would pay homage to the beauty of the landscape here, the soothing quality of it and the magical quality of living by the sea because, in a way, I’m used to it now but I think it’s when I see something like a lighthouse, I don’t know maybe it’s the human element within the landscape of the sea, the flashing lights; there’s something about lighthouses that are very poetic. For instance, I always have this fantasy of one day being able to record an entire album in a lighthouse and at some point it would be something I’d love to do. Also in a way I think the lighthouse flashes, they also have enormous musical qualities – I don’t know if that really makes sense – there is something like a pulse that really speaks to me and you’ve seen this lighthouse anyway, it’s always the same emotion of seeing that landscape and definitely as far as living here is concerned, I actually find it very beneficial to be living in a place where there isn’t very much happening because in a way it forces you to look deeper within you and also gives you more time to work on your own stuff. And that’s the way I feel and I’m glad I lived in Paris for many years – and I probably think it was the right place for me at the time – but actually right now I couldn’t go back to a big city. I think it’s really good to be here and have this balance and also this ability sometimes to completely disconnect from city life, and go to a park or go by the river or sea or go to some hills and completely disconnect and I think that is quite important and quite healthy.
I love your story about when you used to visit the local libraries in Paris, which in turn formed your musical education in many ways? It must have been a whole new world of sounds that opened before you?
CS: I think I’m so lucky that I was able to arrive in Paris at the moment I felt like making music again. Basically what happened from the age of nineteen to twenty-three, I gave up for a moment. From about twenty/twenty-one to twenty-three/twenty-four, I wasn’t sure what kind of music I wanted to make and I didn’t have the tools anyway to do something original and I knew that I wanted to do something by myself. I knew that I didn’t want it to be guitar driven – and I was only playing the guitar at the time – and I think arriving in Paris at that time and having free access to all this music at the time when the internet was barely starting, you know that’s like pre-historic times you know for young people reading this now. I think you have to remember that in 1999 there was no way to listen to things that easily and I think it really formed my whole project of making music in a different way through having access to all this different music.
Finally, Cécile, in terms of Jamaican music, what artists would you recommend?
CS: I’d like to suggest the work of the following people; in terms of producers: Lee Perry, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Scientist, and the recordings that appear on the Wackies label. For interpreters: the early Tappa Zukie and early Burning Spear are favorites, as well as Noel Ellis, Ras Michael, Stranger Cole, Horace Andy… but it’s just the tip of this huge iceberg of excellent music that is the Jamaican music production from the late 60s to early 80s (the period I love the best, with my year of birth – 1976 – being a particular favourite, but that’s just a coincidence!)
‘Captain Of None’ is available now on Thrill Jockey Records.
We’re proud to be presenting Colleen (with special guest Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh) live at Cork Opera House on Sunday 3 May 2015. Tickets are €17.50, available at Cork Opera House Box Office (Emmet Place, Cork City); telephone (+353 21 427 0022) or online HERE.
Just Like Anything [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. We Like We ‘I Began To Fall Apart’ [The Being Music]
02. Sufjan Stevens ‘No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross’ [Asthmatic Kitty]
03. William Ryan Fritch ‘_a renewed sense’ [Lost Tribe Sound]
04. Mute Forest ‘Volcanoes Flowing’ [Lost Tribe Sound]
05. Kenny Burrell ‘Chitlins Con Carne’ [Blue Note]
06. Bert Jansch ‘The Blacksmith’ [Charisma]
07. Ryley Walker ‘Primrose Garden’ [Dead Oceans]
08. Jackson C. Frank ‘Just Like Anything’ [Columbia/Castle Music]
09. Peter Broderick ‘Red Earth’ [Bella Union]
10. Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld ‘The sun roars into view’ [Constellation]
11. Colleen ‘Captain Of None’ [Thrill Jockey]
12. Sebastian Mullaert ‘Lat Björkarna Vissna’ [Mule Electronic]
13. Hauschka ‘Pripyat’ [City Slang/Temporary Residence]
14. Noel Ellis ‘Dance With Me’ [Summer/Light In The Attic]
15. Augustus Pablo ‘Dub Organizer’ [Kaya/Tropical]
16. Calexico ‘Cumbia De Donde’ [City Slang/Anti-]
17. Batha Gèbrè-Heywèt ‘Ewnet Yet Lagegnesh’ [Manteca]
18. Tape & Bill Wells ‘Fugue 3’ [Immune]
19. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat ‘We’re Still Here’ [Chemikal Underground]
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.
Interview with Kael Smith, Mute Forest.
“Lately I’ve really been striving to make every sound original.”
Lost Tribe Sound is a record label that specializes in organic, gentle, and exploratory music that transcends genre, technique, or trend. The label’s forthcoming release is Mute Forest’s sublime debut ‘Infinity Pools’ EP. A companion piece to Kael Smith’s expansive debut full-length, ‘Deforestation’, due out this Autumn.
The opener ‘Crypt’ begins with warm, scintillating rhythms before a wave of masterfully crafted layers of electronic and acoustic elements converge. Soft guitar tones ripple gently into the forefront of the mix. Smith’s luminous vocals lie somewhere between the Notwist’s Markus Acher and Kranky artist Benoît Pioulard: at once Mute Forest’s beguiling sound feels familiar and immediately vital. The highly promising EP combines elements of folk, found sound and ambient soundscapes that conjures up the timeless sounds of Helios, Benoît Pioulard and a host of other electro-acoustic milestones that have graced the atmosphere these past few years.
The cover artwork by Gregory Eulicide (Bon Iver, Erased Tapes) serves the perfect embodiment to ‘Infinity Pools’’s desolate journey, depicting faded city skyscrapers as a vivid sense of searching and yearning traverses the human space. ‘Volcanoes Flowing’ contains a myriad of enchanting sounds; keys, synths, percussion and manipulated field recordings serve the gorgeous ebb and flow to Smith’s heartfelt lament. A darker mood falls on the title-track as Smith’s brooding vocals melt into the slipstream of hypnotic beats and swirling electronics (also featuring vocals from Kelly O’ Brien), reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s solo works. ‘Eat The Skin’ is built on a warm acoustic guitar chord progression that pushes the sonic envelope while being rooted in an age-old tradition. ‘Infinity Pools’ is the first chapter in Mute Forest’s striking narrative. Later this year, Smith’s debut full-length ‘Deforestation’ will forge another compelling journey via the Lost Tribe Sound imprint.
‘Infinity Pools’ is out 07 April ‘15 on Lost Tribe Sound.
Interview with Kael Smith, Mute Forest.
Congratulations Kael on the gorgeous debut EP, ‘Infinity Pools’. The immaculate instrumentation and production are one of the striking aspects of this batch of four compelling songs. Can you talk me through the recording of these songs? What does the studio set-up consist of?
Kael Smith: Wow, thanks Mark. I appreciate that a lot. Everything is written and recorded in my home studio. I’m still kind of finding my way in regards to home recording and mixing. A lot of trial and error is involved. I record everything into Ableton on my laptop, which I have sitting alone in a sound proofed closet to eliminate fan noise. A couple of new pieces of gear that are featured on these tracks are a Roland RE-301 Chorus Tape Echo and Maestro Rhythm King drum machine. There are also a lot of manipulated field recordings in these songs. ‘Crypt’ in particular has samples of sizzling meat used for snare hits. Lately I’ve really been striving to make every sound original. As in no packs, no soft synths etc.
It’s very interesting to think ‘Infinity Pools’ serves the prequel to the forthcoming debut LP, ‘Deforestation’. How do you see the relationship between ‘Infinity Pools’ and ‘Deforestation’? I can imagine it’s more a case that one serves as a companion piece to the other; what is the narrative running through these songs?
KS: It’s actually more of a reverse narrative, so to speak. The EP was written after Deforestation but we’re releasing it first. Because, why not confuse people on your first release?! But really though Infinity Pools is a direct response to Deforestation. Deforestation is more of a holding pattern whereas Infinity Pools is the first step forward.
At the heart of ‘Infinity Pools’ are deeply affecting folk laments, reminiscent of the captivating sounds sculpted by Benoît Pioulard, Keith Kenniff, Peter Broderick et al. My current favourite is the stunning tour-de-force, ‘Volcanoes Flowing’. The lyric “this is a window/it stays open/for how long/let it go” resonates powerfully; a sense of searching is beautifully etched across the sonic canvas. The vocal delivery is also immense. I would love for you to talk me through the construction of ‘Volcanoes Flowing’ please?
KS: Again thank you. I respect and listen to all the artists you mentioned above. It’s interesting you bring up the word folk with a song like “Volcanoes Flowing”. The version on the EP is largely electronic but the original demo was just acoustic guitar, piano and vocals. So the original did contain folky elements. It kind of sat like that for a while before I dug it up and reworked the entire thing. The only element that stayed from the original demo was the vocals.
The stripped back ‘Eat The Skin’ serves the fitting close to the EP. I was very interested to read how the seeds of this song was sewn as the starting point to A Winged Victory For The Sullen remix of a piece from their ‘Atomos’ LP. In terms of remixing an artist’s work, what was the starting point for you? Also, I would love to know which particular ‘Atomos’ piece (I to XI) did you cover? At what point did you decide ‘Eat The Skin’ would evolve into an original composition?
KS: A few years back I did a remix of the Nils Frahm track ‘Me’ off of his album Screws. This was for my other project, Mombi. I ended up adding vocals to the remix which for me was kind of scary as I didn’t want to spoil or undermine Nils’ instrumental aesthetic. But I wrote sincere lyrics that were inspired by his piano and they came from an honest place. So I decided to release it. The response I got from the remix was positive and I wanted to see if I could catch lightning in a bottle again with AWVFTS. I really love their work and I decided to take a crack at Atomos VII. It just never quite turned out the way I wanted and it wasn’t until I subtracted the strings and replaced it with acoustic guitar and organ that it kind of became its own thing. It’s funny, AWVFTS are not on ‘Eat the Skin’, but that song would not exist without Atomos VII. Their ghost is in it somewhere.
Can you shed some light please Kael on the forthcoming ‘Deforestation’ LP?
KS: Certainly. Deforestation is a very isolated and bucolic record that I wrote largely around field recordings taken in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It was a very introverted writing process that I’m not sure I’ll ever attempt again. Thematically the record largely focuses on a middle-aged couple I met at a dinner party one night that were dating again after something like 30 years apart. I found that quite fascinating. It led me to explore themes of ageing, love, identity, growth and complacency. The title, Deforestation, came to me while recording parts of the forest ravaged by the mountain pine beetle. These forests are dead, rotted and devoid of most activity and span thousands of acres here in my home state. The record itself is 9 songs and was mastered by Taylor Deupree. We’re shooting for a fall release on vinyl via Lost Tribe Sound.
‘Infinity Pools’ is out 07 April ‘15 on Lost Tribe Sound.
Interview with Steve Gunn.
“The main theme of ‘Way out Weather’ is about being all over the place and trying to maintain and remain at peace. Being lost while both accepting and enjoying it I suppose is the goal.”
Words: Mark Carry, Design: Craig Carry
The flawless North Carolina-based independent label Paradise of Bachelors has yet again been responsible for a string of modern-day Americana masterpieces, not least the latest tour-de-force from the ever-prolific, Brooklyn-based guitar prodigy and songsmith, Steve Gunn. Last year’s ‘Way Out Weather’ feels like a natural culmination where every aspect of Gunn’s deeply-affecting songs — poignant story-telling quality, immaculate instrumentation and intricate musical arrangements — is heightened as the towering eight creations hits you profoundly and stirs your soul. 2013’s ‘Time Off’ was the starting point of Gunn’s song-writing path, having collaborated closely with Kurt Vile, Michael Chapman, Mike Cooper, The Black Twig Pickers and a host of others in recent times.
A timeless feel permeates every corner of the record. The recording sessions took place at Black Dirt Studio in Westtown, New York, featuring a formidable cast of musicians (and Gunn’s long-term collaborators) further adding to the widescreen, cinematic sound to ‘Way Out Weather’s sprawling sonic canvas. Longtime musical brothers and kindred spirits Jason Meagher (bass, drones, engineering), Justin Tripp (bass, guitar, keys, production), and John Truscinski (drums), in addition to newcomers Nathan Bowles (drums, banjo, keys: Black Twig Pickers, Pelt); James Elkington (guitar, lap steel, dobro: Freakwater, Jeff Tweedy); Mary Lattimore (harp, keys: Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile); and Jimy SeiTang (synths, electronics: Stygian Stride, Rhyton.)
On the utterly transcendent album closer, ‘Tommy’s Congo’, shades of Sonny Sharrock beautifully surfaces beneath the artefacts of time. The deep groove and rhythm interwoven with this vivid catharsis is nothing short of staggering. The cosmic spirit captured on the closing cut — and each of these sublime recordings — permanently occupies a state of transcendence. As each song-cycle unfolds, the shimmering worlds of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue or the Stones’ ‘Exile On Main St.’ fades into focus. ‘Way Out Weather’ is dotted with captivating moments from the ways of a true master.
Released earlier this year – on the pioneering Thrill Jockey label – came the eagerly awaited arrival of ‘Seasonal Hire’; a special collaborative album between Steve Gunn and The Black Twig Pickers that combines Gunn’s meditative guitar playing and the Twigs’ energetic mastery of old-time instrumentation. ‘Seasonal Hire’ collects four original tunes and one traditional piece, with Gunn and The Black Twig Pickers’ Mike Gangloff and Sally Anne Morgan all taking turns with lead vocal and songwriting. Like all of the Twigs’ albums, it was recorded live, without overdubs or amplification.
For upcoming U.S and European tour dates, click here.
‘Way Out Weather’ is available now on Paradise Of Bachelors.
Interview with Steve Gunn.
Congratulations Steve on the sublime new record, ‘Way Out Weather’. It feels like it’s the natural progression on from 2013’s ‘Time Off’ where your song-writing comes to the forefront. Also, the record is a real band album that could be placed alongside the likes of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue or the Stones’ ‘Exile On Main St’. Please discuss the cast of musicians you have on board and indeed how these songs – that I presume started as solo demos – transformed and evolved into the fully bloomed and fully realised sonic creations on ‘Way Out Weather’?
Steve Gunn: Thanks! ‘Way Out Weather’ was a natural progression for us from the last album. ‘Time Off’ was pretty much a live record, and we didn’t get too deep in talking about the arrangement aspect of the songs all that much. We had been playing those songs on ‘Time Off’ for a long time before we went to record them, so everything was in place and it was mostly cut live. Going into the studio, we kind of knew the songs well and how we wanted to record them. The drummer and I made some instrumental albums at the studio before, and ‘Time Off’ was more or less a sonic continuation of that. ‘Way Out Weather‘ is much more of a studio album, where the songs were arranged and recorded pretty much at the same time. Leading up to the session for ‘Way Out Weather‘, There were a lot of discussions and demoing leading us into it, and snippets of ideas were passed around. There were also talks on how we wanted to approach the recording in the studio, with what kind of gear and what kind of improvements we wanted to make. A lot of hanging around and deeply listening to records happened leading up to the session, followed by long late night chats on how maybe some of those sounds were created. We’d pontificate things like Clarence White’s lead on the Byrd’s song ‘Change is Now’ from the Notorious Byrd Brothers album —‘How in the hell?’ Or we’d pace around the room closely listening to Eddie Hazel’s guitar playing on the ‘Maggot Brain’ album.. Is that two echoplexes on that track? And that wah tone? Dang..
The songs for the new album started as solo demo ideas, and I sent them around to the engineer, Jason Meagher of Black Dirt Studio, and the players who came to the session. Most of the ideas were recorded on a handheld device while I was on tour, and when I got home and had some time I sat down and cut and pasted everything together. We had a lot of back and forth regarding what we wanted each track to sound like, and people brought some great ideas to the session. We fleshed the songs out when we all arrived at the studio together, and we cut most of the tracks in less than a week. Collectively everyone involved in the session worked non-stop, and we were workshopping things in another part of the studio while tracking. We had a limited time frame and budget to work with, and we worked long days and went through the tracks one by one without much stopping.
Justin Tripp: Bass, Guitar, Piano, etc.
Nathan Bowles: Drums, Banjo, Piano
John Truscinski: Drums
Jason Meahger: Bass, Synth, Engineering
I love the abstract story-telling and striking narrative that runs throughout ‘Way Out Weather’. I would love for you to discuss the writing process? I envision it’s a sort of stream-of-consciousness akin to Dylan alone at this typewriter as I listen to the compelling songs unfold. Also, the album-title perfectly embodies the flood of music – gripped with emotion and intensity – beautifully captured.
SG: With most of the songs I try to take an anonymous narrative role in telling a story; using a list of visual snapshot descriptions. I travel around and take a lot of notes; either in a notebook, with a camera, sound recorder, etc. Some of these ideas/notes can be pretty banal, and other ideas more intense. I like to play with that mix of day-to-day boring details & heavy emotional subject matter. I really enjoy mixing these kinds of themes together and seeing what kind of story I can tell with them, sometimes the meaning and intentions flip and often that’s the goal. Sometimes the real meaning gets construed later without me even realizing it at first. I really value what meaning others can get out of the descriptions in the songs. It’s often surprising and different from what I am thinking, which is great because it’s nice to keep it personal. I like to throw things out there and see how they circle back.
In many ways, the songs stem from the world around you; the Brooklyn neighbourhood, the communities that inhabit the space and indeed the stories that unfold around you. Please discuss the inspiration that Brooklyn and New York serves for you, Steve? I recall Damon of Amen Dunes telling me how their latest album ‘Love’ is their New York record. Would it be a similar case for ‘Way Out Weather’?
SG: I like living in New York because the city has a certain vibrancy and energy unlike any other place (particularly in the US) that I have ever been to. I never get tired of taking long walks in different areas of the city and observing the day-to-day activities and craziness of existing in such a place. NYC serves as a big inspiration to me, and is a rich environment for someone to walk around and get lost in. Some people fail to realize how big the city actually is, and how much it really has to offer. It’s its own universe, and even after being there so long I am constantly discovering new things. With that being said, I also like leaving New York and being in other places. ‘Way Out Weather’ is not a New York record. I travelled a lot last year, and I wanted to widen the scope this time. The main theme of ‘Way out Weather’ is about being all over the place and trying to maintain and remain at peace. Being lost while both accepting and enjoying it I suppose is the goal.
The diverse styles and sounds contained on ‘Way Out Weather’ is another aspect of the record’s timeless feel. Please take me back to the sessions at Black Dirt Studio in Westtown, New York. Were a lot of these songs borne from jams and how much of the songs stemmed from live improvisation? It must have been an enriching experience to be part of such a dynamic and formidable ensemble. How long did the recording sessions take?
SG: It was definitely an enriching experience to be in the studio with all of those players. I was very careful with who I wanted to come to the session, and everyone involved brought their own important stamp to the music. Everyone who came to the session are the best musicians I could have asked for to attend the session, and I am super grateful for what they brought to the record. Improvisation is a big part of my musical life, and I think it’s an important thing to embrace if you are a travelling musician. All of the people involved in the session have all kinds of experience playing in so many different contexts, and all our collective knowledge and ability was used in a really great way. The session was also a testament to ourselves with what we are capable of doing in the studio.
For us every environment and live situation is different, and quick adaptation is really key to not letting things go off the rails. We’ve all been playing in bands in many different contexts and styles, and doing things that are inspired and off the cuff are where we often find are best material. We relied on these kind of instincts for the ‘Way Out Weather’ session and we kind of rolled with the songs without scrutinizing it too much.
There are an endless array of utterly transcendent moments dotted on the new record, such is its greatness. At the moment, ‘Fiction’- – which begins part B of the record – is my favourite. I particularly love the meandering guitar licks that forms a gorgeous rise in the song. Can you talk me through this song please and indeed your memories of writing and laying the tracks down?
SG: Thanks. That song came about in the studio when I messing around with this cyclical guitar line and Jim Elkington was accompanying with Dobro. Every song on the album was cut in a very loose fashion, and it’s interesting to you that this one is your favourite because this one was the loosest. The words and vocal arrangement were sort of a made up on the spot, all of the vocal tracks were stacked on top of each other, and the rhythm part at the end was a very last-minute addition as we were listening back to the song trying to figure out what to do with it.
The album closer ‘Tommy’s Congo’ epitomises the bold, creative spirit that lies at the heart of ‘Way Out Weather’. Shades of Sonny Sharrock beautifully surfaces beneath the artefacts of time. The deep groove and rhythm inter-woven with this vivid catharsis is nothing short of staggering. Please discuss the narrative to ‘Tommy’s Congo’? As album closers go, this is one of those defining moments, “from the ways of a master”.
SG: I came up with the idea for the song after hanging out in a few Congolese bars in Belgium with my friend and bandmate Tommy. I more or less put together a few memories and inspirations from being there and watching these amazing musicians do their thing. The guitar players always kept their eyes on the party and socialized as they were playing these incredible rhythmic guitar lines — totally badass and kind of unbelievable…
For upcoming U.S and European tour dates, click here.
‘Way Out Weather’ is available now on Paradise Of Bachelors.