Philadelphia-based artist Jeff Zeigler releases ‘Slant of Light’, the much-anticipated debut full-length LP with harpist Mary Lattimore, this month via Chicago-based Thrill Jockey Records. Zeigler is a multi-instrumentalist and hugely renowned recording artist (Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss) whose reputation has been firmly established long ago in the thriving Philadelphia independent music scene. ‘Slant of Light’ comprises both beautifully organic and texturally dense improvisations recorded with Lattimore on harp and Zeigler on synthesizers and guitar. The combination of both artistic vision and genuine ambition, together with remarkable imagination and technical execution, is testament not only to each individual’s mastery of their own respective instrument but also to their near-symbiotic connection as a recording duo. To date, Lattimore has collaborated extensively with a vast array of artists including Sharon Van Etten, Thurston Moore, Steve Gunn and Wrekmeister Harmonies; while Zeigler has performed with members of Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel Band, The War on Drugs, and A Sunny Day in Glasgow in his group Arc in Round. ‘Slant of Light’ by Mary Lattimore and Jeff Zeigler is available now worldwide via Thrill Jockey.
Fractured Air 25: Tinted Glass (A Mixtape by Jeff Zeigler)
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Cabaret Voltaire ‘Nag Nag Nag’ [NovaMute / Rough Trade]
02. Camberwell Now ‘Working Nights’ [Ink]
03. Family Fodder ‘Savoir Faire’ [Fresh]
04. Cold Beat ‘Tinted Glass’ [Crime On The Moon]
05. Clan of Xymox ‘No Words’ [4AD]
06. Nico ‘Sixty Forty’ [Aura / Metronome]
07. John Bender ‘31A4’ [Record Sluts]
08. Howard Shore ‘Assassins in the Barn’ [Not On Label]
09. Kraftwerk ‘Ruckzuck’ [Philips]
10. Electrelane ‘I’m on Fire’ [Too Pure]
11. The Smiths ‘You’ve Got Everything Now’ [Rough Trade]
12. Samsimar ‘Indang Pariaman’ [Sublime Frequencies]
13. Third Eye Foundation ‘Sound of Violence’ [Domino / Merge]
14. Crescent ‘Every Atom of our Blood’ [Roomtone / Swarffinger]
15. Butthole Surfers ‘Graveyard’ [Touch And Go / Blast First]
16. Movietone ‘In Mexico’ [Domino / Drag City]
17. Julee Cruise ‘I Remember’ [Warner Bros.]
18. Harold Budd and the Cocteau Twins ‘She Will Destroy You’ [4AD]
19. Disco Inferno ‘Footprints in the Snow’ [Rough Trade / Bar/None]
‘Slant of Light’ is available now on all formats via Thrill Jockey.
Hailing from Dublin, White Collar Boy are Gavin White and Mark Cummins, a two piece electronic-garage group from Dublin. Gavin White and Mark Cummins met at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona 2011 and their shared passion for electronic composition inevitably led the pair to merge their creative endeavors. Thus far, White Collar Boy released their debut ‘Kinsale’ EP in 2012, followed by 2013’s 12″ Vinyl “SUUU” via Bodytonic Music. This summer, White Collar Boy premiered two brand new tracks, ‘Exodus’ and ‘Away from Reality’, live at Nialler9’s NO ADVANCE party at Block T, Dublin, back in June.
“Nothing Ever Happened” is “2 hours of alternative/new wave/independent/electronica stuff recorded live at the Garage Bar, Dublin.”
Fractured Air 24: Nothing Ever Happened (A Mixtape by White Collar Boy)
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. A Sunny Day in Glasgow ‘A Mundane Phonecall to Jack Parsons’
02. AR Kane ‘Haunting’
03. The #1’s ‘Girl’
04. Blank Dogs ‘Tin Birds’
05. Lives of Angels ‘The Golden Age’
06. Black Marble ‘MSQ No Extra’
07. Gold Panda ‘Fifth Avenue’
08. High Places ‘From Stardust to Sentience’
09. Nite Jewel ‘Weak for Me’
10. Gatto Fritto ‘The Curse’
11. John Maus ‘The Rain’
12. Deerhunter ‘Nothing Ever Happened’
13. Gang of Four ‘Armalite Rifle’
14. Beach Fossils ‘What a Pleasure’
15. Crystal Stilts ‘Converging in the Quiet’
16. A Place to Bury Strangers ‘Ocean’
17. Thee Oh Sees ‘Peanut Butter Oven’
18. Vivian Girls ‘Where do you Run to’
19. Wavves ‘So bored’
20. Jay Reatard ‘Oh it’s such a Shame’
21. Women ‘Black Rice’
22. Wolf Parade ‘I’ll believe in Anything’
23. Atlas Sound (w/Noah Lennox) ‘Walkabout’
24. Girl Band ‘Elastic’
25. Interpol ‘Untitled’
26. Simon Bird ‘Baphomet Vs. The Great Winged Horse II’
27. Fad Gadget ‘Back to Nature’
28. New Order ‘The Perfect Kiss’
29. The Cure ‘A Forest’
30. Lotus Plaza ‘Red Oak Way’
31. Beta Band ‘She’s the One’
“Nothing Ever Happened” mix compiled by Mark Cummins, recorded live at the Garage Bar, Dublin on August 26th 2014.
Interview with White Collar Boy here:
Interview with Peter Broderick.
“I like to embrace the ever-evolving life of a song, and dub music is a very good outlet for that…”
Words: Mark Carry
Artwork: Peter Broderick
Greg Gives Peter Space is the long-awaited first collaborative work with Peter Broderick and Greg Haines, which was released last June (via download and vinyl release) on the ever-illuminating independent label, Erased Tapes. Inspired by the pair’s obsession with dub music, the gifted multi-instrumentalists create sublime soundscapes, derived from rhythmically driven tracks, evoking the spirit of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, King Tubby and Augustus Pablo. On the utterly transcendent track, ‘The Drive’, Broderick asks “Are you ready for this?” — Greg Gives Peter Space unfolds layers of stunningly beautiful violin passages, ethereal sounds from tape-worn synthesizers, celestial harmonies and a hypnotic bassline. Welcome to the ever-expanding and shape shifting sounds of this incredibly exciting new collaboration.
‘Greg Gives Peter Space’ is a six-track mini album which reflects the latest artistic endeavors of Haines and Broderick, who have both been heavily immersed in a seamless array of collaborations in the not-too-distant past. American-born musician and composer, Broderick has long been synonymous with Copenhagen’s Efterklang, in addition to magnificent collaborative works with close friends Nils Frahm and Dustin O’Halloran, to name but a few. British born and Berlin based composer, Haines’s collaborative work includes his ongoing work with the Alvaret Ensemble (whose carefully constructed compositions feature intricate layers of brass, electronics, piano, voice, guitar and percussion) and 2012’s collaboration with the Dutch National Ballet and choreographer David Dawson.
Interestingly, it is the respective artist’s latest solo works which gives traces to the dub-influenced sounds of Greg Gives Peter Space. ‘These Walls Of Mine’ (Erased Tapes, 2012) saw Broderick effortlessly fuse a myriad of genres — soul, hip hop, folk, modern-classical — and the album’s longest cut ‘Copenhagen Ducks’ feels like a distant companion to ‘The Drive’s similarly evolving dub-infused sound. A space and dimension is wonderfully attained. Last year’s Denovali Records LP ‘Where We Were’ (Haines’s most groundbreaking and daring work to date) reveals the British composer’s fascination with dub music (and, indeed, musical experiments) where seamless layers of synthesizers created a resolutely unique body of work. Greg Gives Peter Space feels like the natural next step, where two like-minded artists forge thrillingly new, enchanting sounds.
‘Greg Gives Peter Space’ is available now on Erased Tapes.
Interview with Peter Broderick.
Congratulations on the incredible Greg Gives Peter Space record, which marks a special collaborative project between you and your close friend, Greg Haines. The music stems from your shared fascination and love for dub music. I must first ask you to discuss your love of Jamaican music and what records provided you the gateway into this exciting world of sound? What have been the most recent dub discoveries for you, Peter?
Peter Broderick: I will admit that the dub influence probably comes more from Greg’s side than from me . . . Greg has been collecting dub records pretty seriously over the last few years, and there have been many nights of us sitting together at his place, him playing me record after record of obscure dub. I’ve picked up several records myself and really grown to love the dub, but I’m an amateur compared to Greg. I do really love pretty much everything I’ve heard from the Wackie’s label . . . recently I picked up a record by Joe Gibbs called Majestic Dub . . . it’s pretty amazing! I’ve also been getting into a local record label here in Portland called ZamZam . . . they only release limited 7″ vinyls of dub music. Very cool!
One of the most striking aspects of Greg Gives Peter Space is the intuitive nature of the music, something that has proved a constant in both your and Greg’s solo work to date. Can you please recount your memories of recording the album? In terms of the musical layers, did your vocals and arrangements appear first or was it a case of Greg’s synthesizers and tape machines providing the starting point?
PB: The process for each song was quite different . . . some of them started as songs that I wrote, and then Greg sort of de-constructed them and expanded upon them. Others started as improvisations and sound experiments… For instance, The Feeling Shaker basically started when Greg showed up at my apartment in Berlin a few years ago, saying he had recorded some synthesizers, and suggested that we try and make a song based around those recordings. I had this vocal melody in my head that I had been singing to myself while walking or showering, etc… So I sang my words over the top of his synths. Then we added another track where Greg played piano and I played bass. Then we played some percussion together. Everything was done in one or two takes. This song bounced around in many incarnations for several years, before we finally sat down together and made a final mix in early 2014. The mixing process was a huge part of the sound for this record. This is where the dub inspiration really came into play . . . sending the mixes to Greg’s old tape machines, adding live effects as the final mix was being recorded.
I feel ‘Electric Eel River’ is one of the most special songs you have written thus far. The intimacy, openness and sheer beauty of the ballad provides endless inspiration. Can you please recount for me writing this song? It serves the formidable centrepiece to the record.
PB: I’m so happy there has been a good response to that song. I remember very clearly how that song came about. I was in a hotel by myself in Oslo last winter, and I had my banjo with me. I was thinking about this night I had in the redwood forest last year, getting lost in the woods by myself, having the time of my life, realizing I wanted to move back to America. And I wanted to make a song about that evening. Originally the song was just called Eel River . . . but after Greg got ahold of it and “gave it some space”, he appropriately added Electric…
Rupie Edwards described dub music as “a way of life coming out of a people.” I think this could be the essence of the interstellar journey that Greg Gives Peter Space takes you on. Can you discuss the construction (or indeed de-construction) of ‘The Drive’? This song serves the perfect prologue to the album’s narrative.
PB: The Drive started out as a very basic song, just guitar and voice, just three chords over and over again. Greg actually thought it was kind of a boring and plain song, ha, and basically he wanted to mess it up and make it a little more interesting. In the end the guitar is hardly a part of the song any more . . . but we had a lot of fun playing around with rhythms and percussion, synthesizers, building a small little homemade orchestra for the second chorus . . . and of course, lots of dubby effects!
What is fascinating about dub music is the endless versions and re-workings of various songs depending on whose production marks are left on the record. For example, I love how there are two versions of ‘Clear View’ on the record. Is it a challenge to settle on one particular take (when honing in on a certain sound or feel) when I imagine you both effortlessly create many mutations of songs as they gradually evolve to its final entity?
PB: It’s always a little strange to make the decision or acceptance that something is “finished” . . . and in fact, I don’t like to think of recordings as “final” versions of songs . . . a song is basically just an idea, and it changes every time it’s played. Even when listening to a recording, it’s going to be different every time, depending on the stereo system, the setting, what you ate for breakfast, everything! I like to embrace the ever-evolving life of a song, and dub music is a very good outlet for that.
After playing several UK shows during the summer, how have the songs translated to the live setting and have they changed in any way from the studio recordings? I can imagine playing these songs live must be a real thrill.
PB: We had a lot of fun at the shows . . . the songs all became much longer. We save a lot of room for improvisation when we play live, using the songs as a starting point to try and create something new each night. And it’s been a real thrill to get people dancing…
The album artwork is amazing. It really conveys the ceaseless dimensions the music inhabits. Can you please talk about the artwork that beautifully adorns the sleeves and who is responsible?
PB: We’re so happy with the artwork! It’s actually kind of a funny story . . . Greg and I had this very concrete idea of a picture of Greg in a spaceship with his studio inside, then I would be floating in space connected to Greg’s ship. And we actually had several artists try and create this image before finally ending up with Henning Wagenbreth who did the final version. At one point I even tried to draw the image myself, but since my drawing skills haven’t changed since the 3rd grade, we decided to hire a professional in the end.
What is next for you, Peter?
PB: I am preparing for the release of my next solo record on the Bella Union label. I have a single/ep coming out in October (including a dub version of one of the songs by Greg!), and the album will be out next spring. I’ll be playing a lot of concerts around the release of the ep and album, with the help of three very talented musicians from Switzerland . . . it will be my first time touring with a band! But before all that Greg and I will be playing some shows together on the west coast of America. I’m really looking forward to showing Greg the area where I come from.
All artwork above by Peter Broderick.
Greg Gives Peter Space will tour across the east coast of the U.S. this month:
24.09. LOS ANGELES (US) The Echo
25.09. SAN FRANCISCO (US) The Chapel
27.09. PORTLAND (US) Mississippi Studios
28.09. SEATTLE (US) Decibel Festival
Interview with Richard Davies.
“Who knows what can be included in the palette? It’s always an adventure. The idea of The Moles — anonymous, spies, double agents, elusive, ambiguous — always makes a Moles record an excuse for imagination first.”
Words: Mark Carry
This year marked the release of legendary Australian band The Moles’ first comprehensive retrospective collection, courtesy of independent label, Fire Records. ‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ contains the band’s two studio albums; debut full-length ‘Untune The Sky’ and follow-up ‘Instinct’ (the latter was heralded by The Sea And Cake’s Archer Prewitt as being “as close to perfection as any Beatles or Beach Boys record and it stands on its own as a classic in my book”) and a whole plethora of b-sides and rarities, culled from various EP’s and singles.
Led by Richard Davies (who later would join Eric Mathews and form Cardinal), The Moles were formed in Sydney in the late 80’s and unleashed a resolutely unique sound of orchestral pop, psych, garage and indie gems that inspired many bands (such as The Flaming Lips) and wowed audiences worldwide. The original band line-up consisted of Glenn Fredericks, Richard Davies, Warren Armstrong and Carl Zadra, friends from law school who were fans of Flying Nun, The Fall and The Go Betweens, drawing their name from a reference to ‘Wind In The Willows’ and spy novels (John Le Carré and Graham Greene).
A series of EP’s were released at the turn of the 90’s – ‘Untune The Sky’ and ‘Tendrils and Paracetamol’ – that would eventually see the release of the band’s first full-length release in 1992 (also titled ‘Untune The Sky’). The Moles re-located to New York, where they released a pair of seven inch singles (packaged together as the Double single EP). A move to London followed that lasted a year (that would include recording a John Peel session and many great gigs) and in 1994, the original line-up of The Moles split.
‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ is out now on Fire Records.
Interview with Richard Davies
It’s wonderful to ask you some questions about the music of The Moles, Richard. Please take me back to the late 80’s in Sydney where The Moles began? I would love for you to discuss the music scene happening in Sydney during this time. Also, can you recount your memories of forming the band The Moles, and who played with you in the original line-up?
Richard Davies: The Sydney music scene was a no-goer. It was crap. Lots of crappin’ covers bands doing songs not worth covering. Not organic in any sense. Really, a drag. There were a couple of good bands, one called Crow, and The Moles. (We weren’t “good” but we were good). Not much going on at all. Had to get out of there to do anything of interest!
One of the great hallmarks of The Moles is how richly diverse and utterly compelling the songs are; belonging very much to the here and now, packed with such a freshly innovative sound. I would love to gain an insight into the creative process and particularly, your song-writing please? I feel that you must have a myriad of ideas and inspiration ceaselessly surrounding you, and writing non-stop. Would that be the case?
RD: I must say your questions are particularly celtic. It seems I can’t help writing. Also I like impact in music, intensity. Not intensity that comes from relentless distorted guitars and screamed vocals. That kind of intensity is reductionist – although done with wit, like say, The Stooges, it has artistic merit as well. So, I am restless, and I like surprises.
Growing up and indeed during the formative years of your musical-upbringing, what records made a biggest impact upon you, Richard? Were you heavily immersed in music from a young age? I’d love to know what instruments you first learned to play?
RD: I played nothing properly until I was about 20. I twanged on a terrible Korean guitar, the brand was called ‘Kapok’, which is kind of like the sound it made, when I was 15. Just one string, aping Beatles basslines and Johnny Cash lead guitar. Upon reflection that was more sophisticated than I imagined.
My Dad, Welsh old-school chain smoking WWII veteran, would come in and say “Put down that bloody twanger”.
When he wasn’t telling me to leave the bloody twanger alone (and I mean guitar by that) we would both listen to Simon and Garfunkel, The Bee Gees, and even The Beatles at a stretch. He would drink scotch on New Year’s Eve and shed tears to Handel’s Messiah, though he was an atheist. I never had the chance to ask him to explain that discrepancy. I inherited a couple of records from my sister Anne, Sam n Dave, The Exciters’ “Tell Him”, and one early crackling Parlophone vinyl single by The Beatles.
The debut full-length album, ‘Untune The Sky’ was released in 1992, after a string of EPs. The album opener — and my first taste of witnessing the indie-pop brilliance of The Moles — ‘Bury Me Happy’ is a scintillating and heartfelt slice of indie-bliss. Do you have any particular memories of writing this song, and indeed recording the track in the studio? It’s such a perfect opening to a remarkable record.
RD: When I was in my early twenties I was a slow learner on the social front. A little behind the pace. Now I realize my shyness was likely due to my deafness, which is quite profound. My friends would go to the student union bar and chug beers and try to pull girls. I would smile a lot and sip Coca Colas. I think that environment and my quiet reaction to it was what that song was about.
What was the recording process like for ‘Untune The Sky’. What was the set-up like? I imagine a lot of the tracks were recorded in one or two takes, as there is such a raw and immediate feel to these takes.
RD: Most recorded very quickly. We were bootstapping it. That was the only way to make a record, nothing deluxe for The Moles and their ilk. In one studio, the engineer was very upset that we wanted to try a thing called an “over-dub”.
Since there was no window from the control room to the recording “area” I should have appreciated his concern. There were some rats in the studio however.
He complained that a band should “come in, do a cover, and get out”, and not screw around or waste his time with stuff like writing their own songs or recording overdubs.
Is there a song you’re most proud of from ‘Untune The Sky’, Richard?
RD: ‘What’s The New Mary Jane’ is, as has been described, the crown jewel of the recorded output of The Moles, although I’m partial to ‘Accidental Saint’ and a few of the others too. I like ‘Wires’ and ‘Curdle’, they get the job done.
I love the aesthetic and flow to the record, and how the songs are formed from such a vast sonic canvas. Also, I love the hidden details embedded in the songs, for example ‘Curdle’ which contains some audio-recording/found sounds during the intro. How important was this aspect to the music-making process for you?
RD: Who knows what can be included in the palette? It’s always an adventure. The idea of The Moles — anonymous, spies, double agents, elusive, ambiguous — always makes a Moles record an excuse for imagination first.
I love the concept. The name and the idea is a license. There’s an element of a well that never runs dry.
The instrumentation, which is really daring and adventurous is another reason why the record sounds so ahead of its time and resolutely unique. Were there particular techniques you employed during the recording sessions? I love the addition of brass on tracks like ‘Surf’s Up’ and the worlds of sound that are so effortlessly unleashed. Was the song-title an ode to The Beach Boys’ album? (One of my favourite moments of ‘Untune The Sky’ arrives on the chorus refrain of ‘Surf’s Up’ where you sing “Let the waves roll over me”).
RD: ‘Surf’s Up’ was about a recurring dream I had for many years of taking a nap at the part of the beach where the waves roll onto the sand, and the water is warm, and it is very calming and soothing. It always helped me wake up refreshed and enthusiastic.
The Moles are music-and-ideas-first by necessity. They never did and never will depend on business strategies, tactics, log-rolling, posturing, name-calling, back biting, and petty fighting, which seems to happen to even the most aesthetically “pure” bands the longer they are around.
The only thing The Moles possess now that they never did before is connections — to powerful and imperious musical neptunes who cast their mighty tridents upon certain objects, and in certain directions, and lo, I’m answering these questions for you.
I must say the album centrepiece for me, must be ‘Lonely Hearts Get What They Deserve’. The backing harmonies and piano/organ sounds are breathtakingly beautiful. There is a vivid sense of loneliness etched across the sprawling canvas of sound. Also, your vocal delivery is immense, charged with raw emotion. I would love for you to talk me through the construction of this song and your memories of writing/recording it?
RD: That was the first song I wrote that was ‘complicated’. It was complicated musically, and emotionally. It was the second or third song I tackled. It came out of a troubled period with a girlfriend in my early twenties, the usual thing that people get mixed up in with relationships, finding out what is involved in being in love beyond the first few weeks. I had it written in a little brown notepad along with ‘Bury Me Happy’ and ‘Accidental Saint’, which came out of the same period. It was an intense time, more happy than is reflected in the song.
A short time after the release of ‘Untune The Sky’, the group re-located to New York, where you released a couple of seven-inch singles. Following this, you moved to London and gathered critical acclaim from all corners. Was there a feeling of dismay, following the release of the debut record and despite receiving unanimous praise, commercial sales wouldn’t follow? Did The Moles tour a lot during your stint in the UK? What were your impressions of the music world at this time?
RD: The Moles, at the time we were praised, were working in factories, a candle factory in London on the 11.00 PM-7AM shift. I was stealing tomatoes off street stalls to add to the pasta for dinner.
A bloke from Spiritualized’s record label said “Mate, we shall set you up, I’ll shall give you 70,000 pounds.” Well, OK…
“Come down to the office and we’ll get you sorted, yeah?” Well, alright.
“See that bloke over there? That’s Brett Anderson mate…” Well, OK…
I was already 28 and knew, despite my sensitive artistic nature, that the joke’s on all of us. No-one gets off free. I’m no more of an angel than anybody else, no less of a shyster.
I have received kindly compliments and salutations from all kinds of artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and poets. I also remember, back in those days, standing at a bus-stop in Stoke Newington in the rain. A filthy crotchety old bastard, the kind that only London can produce, was standing next to me and he thought I was too close to him with my umbrella, and he said “Yer, you’re no good at all, you’ll ‘ave a coom-down mate.” That’s the first and only thing he said to me.
It’s all part of the fun.
This year marked a special retrospective release of The Moles, entitled ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences’ containing a treasure chest of bonus material from various EPs and singles. It must be a lovely feeling for you to see this musical document of The Moles been given the light of day? Looking back on the music of The Moles today, does your perspective of these songs change for you, in any way?
RD: When I play Moles songs, I am putting on the cowl. There is a particular attitude. It fits me better than most other incarnations. It is the most natural habitat.
Following The Moles, you of course went on to create utterly timeless sonic creations, alongside Eric Matthews in Cardinal; a collaborative project with Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices) under the name of Cosmos, and your own outstanding solo records. Do you feel there is a common thread inter-woven in all these works? With the virtue of hindsight, in what way do you think the chapter of The Moles led its way into the musical projects that followed?
RD: At this stage The Moles feel like where I am most comfortable.
‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ is out now on Fire Records.
Interview with Damon McMahon.
“If you’re listening to the ‘White Album’ or ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ by Big Star or you know, ‘Let It Be’ by The Replacements – that’s a kind of shitty example but has the ballad break on the middle of the record and there are some acoustic songs on it – those records are so diverse and that was what my brain was formatted with as a young kid. I think I always try and make diverse music because of those records.”
Words: Mark Carry
Amen Dunes is the musical guise of Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Damon McMahon who has delivered one of 2014’s most affecting and infinitely special records in the form of ‘Love’, released on Sacred Bones Records earlier this year. A spiritual dimension permeates throughout ‘Love’s sprawling canvas of sound that captures the cosmic spirit of spiritual jazz greats such as Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders; ‘Astral Weeks’ era Van Morrison, the reverb-drenched guitar-pop odysseys of Galaxie 500 and the New York independent music scene. As ever, the latest Amen Dunes full-length forges an intimate and personal journey that lingers in the slipstream of one’s heart and mind long after the music has faded into memory’s past.
The solo project of McMahon’s Amen Dunes began with recordings made in Autumn 2006 in upstate New York. Those tapes were never intended for release but while living in Beijing for the next few years, McMahon would continue to write and record songs. Finally, 2009 saw the release of ‘DIA’ on Locust Music followed by the sublime ‘Murder Dull Mind’ (containing gorgeously sparse acoustic folk laments) on Sacred Bones Records in the summer of 2010. ‘Through Donkey Jaw’ would follow next, an album more fully-realized and a more band-oriented sound than previous works. ‘Love’ represents McMahon’s most compelling and accomplished batch of songs to date, where a cathartic energy is released with each tower of song.
In contrast to the largely improvisational first-take affairs of previous records, ‘Love’ is the product of close to a year and a half of continuous work. At the core of Amen Dunes’ sound lies a formidable trio of gifted musicians: McMahon (vocals, guitars) and his long-time collaborators Jordi Wheeler (guitar, piano) and Parker Kindred (drums). The recording sessions took place in Montreal with Dave Bryant and Efrim Menuck of God Speed You! Black Emperor and guest appearances from Colin Stetson (saxophone) and Iceage’s Elias Bender-Ronnen Felt (who duets on two tracks).
Some of the great hallmarks of ‘Love’ (and indeed the distinctive sound of Amen Dunes) is the album’s lo-fi production style, McMahon’s hypnotic voice (a powerful and healing force) and psychedelic guitar style. I like to see ‘Love’ as a vinyl LP in the classic sense, where a resolutely unique world unfolds as the needle is spun. Ten songs; ten visionary tales that encompasses an endless array of illuminating moments that in turn, shapes the world around you. Take ‘Rocket Flare’, for example (which opens part B of ‘Love’s fulfilling voyage). This brooding opus exists in its own stratosphere; recalling the timeless spirit of ‘Zuma’ era Neil Young as Wheeler’s mesmerising guitars blends effortlessly with McMahon’s delicate vocals. ‘Sixteen’ takes you to someplace else. The tender piano ballad evokes a purity and innocence that could be taken from the cherished songbook of Daniel Johnston. Moments later, the Americana gem of ‘Lilac In Hand’ moves “like a shadow” into “the salty air”. The meditative lament exists in a separate time and place, somewhere familiar yet mysteriously unknown. One of the album’s defining moments arrives on the record’s closing song, the album’s title-track and all of its eight-and-a-half minutes of glorious redemptive qualities and healing power. Delicate percussion and soulful piano chords embrace the deeply honest song-writing prose of McMahon. A sense of pain, loss — and yet flickers of hope and solace shine forth like embers from a burning flame — exudes from the achingly beautiful harmonies that conjures up the sound of The Beach Boys, Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks’ and ‘Beggar’s Banquet’-era Rolling Stones. ‘Love’ feels like a culmination.
‘Love’ is available now on Sacred Bones Records.
Interview with Damon McMahon.
I had the pleasure to see you live recently in Poland as part of the ATP show with Dean Wareham. It was amazing to witness your live performance, it was really special.
Damon McMahon: Oh thanks man. That was a special show for me, it was very cool to be there.
The reaction from the audience was lovely, where you could really sense the occasion.
DMcM: Yeah they were really amazing, they were very attentive.
I must congratulate you on the new album, ‘Love’, it’s a really amazing record.
DMcM: Thanks man. Thank you.
I was really interested to realize only recently how you took a lot of time on this album; it must have been really interesting for you to take your time with the songs this time around as opposed to doing it so quick and spontaneously?
DMcM: Yeah, it was a very different approach to things. The results were very different, you know. Instead of being impressionistic first-take kind of discovery of music, it was a real labour of love. And I worked on it for over a year which I’ve never done before. So yeah, it was a big shift.
I love too how – they’re your own songs of course – there is a lovely collaboration between you and the members in the band and you could really sense that seeing you live as well; that kind of connection between you all.
DMcM: Cool, that’s good man. I mean it’s very important to think like, the way we interact as a trio is very important to the band I think. Me and Jordi Wheeler, the guy on piano and guitar – and the guy you saw play with us is a kind of temporary drummer who was playing all the original drummer’s parts, this guy Parker [Parker Kindred] – it’s very much like a symbiotic relationship.
In terms of making the album then Damon, were they integral to the songs from the very start or is it a case you have them fully-formed in your head before you get to them?
DMcM: I have them fully written, I write all the songs – it’s all written when I bring them to the band – but they help give the songs a certain direction, I think. So Parker comes up with all the drum beats and Jordi will normally add a piano or a guitar part that’s strongly melodic and that part will really give the song a lot of character. I mean there are some songs where Jordi didn’t play on at all on the record. There are a handful of songs where it’s just me and Parker – I do all the overdubs and Parker plays the drums. Some songs like ‘Lonely Richard’, the slide guitar is Jordi and it’s a very definitive piece of the song. Or ‘Love’ for example, I wrote that on guitar but Jordi transcribed it to piano and that really changed things. And yeah, it’s just natural.
That sounds great. I’m always fascinated with any band and how the songs always mutate or change as you go along.
DMcM: Yeah, I love changing songs. I like playing them different you know, over the years. I do this like a kind of jazz operation, in a way in that I have these standards and I like to alter them over the years. I mean some of these songs have been out forever. The song called ‘Baba Yaga’ that was on ‘Through Donkey Jaw’ I wrote in 2006, so I’ve been playing it for eight years and it’s still so fresh because we can hone new shit out of it every time, you know.
Like any great album, it grows and grows but there’s a wonderful kind of spiritual element and sense of a journey on the album as a whole.
DMcM: Thanks man. Good, I’m happy that comes across. That was the objective.
I must say ‘Lilac In Hand’ is one of my favourite songs. Again, like any song-writing, I love how there are certain lyrics – it could be more like a phrase – I love how they really stick with you as well, like “move like a shadow” for example.
DMcM: That’s great man. I think words are so important. For that song, I wouldn’t say they’re the most poetic on the record – I wouldn’t say there’s the most substances – but I put a lot more thought into the lyrics of ‘Love’ as there’s tons there. ‘Lilac In Hand’ is more like a short poem or something and it’s a little abstractive. I still feel that even if it’s abstract, the lyrics should have weight, and stick. Yeah, that’s cool, I’m happy that that comes across.
I love too the range of styles you have on the album and the dynamic, you know as well. The lovely piano ballad ‘Sixteen’ and there’s the more band sounds. There’s that dynamic where it changes throughout.
DMcM: Cool, yeah it was really important for me. I’m a real LP obsessive. My whole life I’ve always studied the format of albums and the way people sequence and the way people balance albums out with productions. If you’re listening to the ‘White Album’ or ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ by Big Star or you know, ‘Let It Be’ by The Replacements – that’s a kind of shitty example but has the ballad break on the middle of the record and there are some acoustic songs on it – those records are so diverse and that was what my brain was formatted with as a young kid. I think I always try and make diverse music because of those records.
Well that really comes through because as you say even, as a vinyl too there is part A, B, C and D and you have all these different little worlds in the one overall album.
DMcM: That’s great man, I really care about that ‘cause I spend a lot of time figuring out the sequencing, the whole balance of it, you know. And I wanted this to be an album where you could listen to it on many levels. Let’s say ‘Lilac In Hand’ for example. My mom could like that song probably because it’s like a pleasant pop song but if you listen carefully, it has this kind of other mood to it. And even thematically, it sounds like nothing but even for ‘Lilac In Hand’, they’re all euphuisms for copping drugs in New York City. You wouldn’t necessarily know that but you know, all these songs have a second meaning and dimensions to them that are important to me.
I’d be interested to know would a lot of New York and living there come through the songs so, almost sub-consciously?
DMcM: Definitely, yeah because Jordi, Parker and I are all from New York. Jordi was born in the city, Parker was born in Jersey and I was born in Philadelphia but we all grew up in New York and outside of New York so we’ve been here forever. Yeah, we’re very much New Yorkers and I think that this album is at once very organic and natural but also very New York and urban. I think of it as a New York album, for sure. I always wanted to make, you know as pretty as it gets it always has to be tough, it’s like a requirement. You can’t like, you can’t use them unless it has that toughness to it, it doesn’t work so I think that’s the way the New York thing comes across.
I love too, how on the surface of some songs, there’s the brightness and those beautiful melodies but there’s that dark undercurrent, you know the contrast between dark and light as well.
DMcM: Yeah I thrive to carry that through, you know. I never want it to be just one or the other.
Do you reckon Damon you will spend as long on your follow-up album or what the nature of the next record will be? I know it’s a bit early to say.
DMcM: I like every album to be very different. So my plan for the next album is for it to be relatively quick and clear and muscular so that’s the sort of idea I have for it, so far. So, more electric guitars and more volume and tight melodies, like that’s my idea. It’s coming out a year from now actually, it’s coming out in either September or October of next year. Actually I don’t really stop working I guess [laughs] I just got home from Europe a week ago so we were just on tour and I’ve been in the studio all week recording a new EP that’s coming out in January. So, last night I had this amazing recording experience because my friend Ben Greenberg who has a project called Hubble and he also played bass in The Men for a while; he lives upstairs and he came downstairs and he played on a song with me – which is a cover of a This Mortal Coil song, a Tim Buckley cover called ‘Song to the Siren’ and we did a version of it last night and it sounds really beautiful so I’m excited about it. And that’s going to be out in January.
Wow that sounds amazing. I love the art of cover songs, I’m always intrigued by that.
DMcM: Yeah me too. I love covers and the way you put your own stamp on things.
And speaking of electric guitars, I love the sound you get on ‘Rocket Flare’.
DMcM: That’s Jordi, the lead thing is Jordi, yeah. I love that part too.
For the recording sessions themselves, it must have been really fulfilling to record with the guys in Godspeed! You Black Emperor?
DMcM: Yeah it was man. It was cool. I love collaborating with people who are talented and to be able to witness and incorporate their abilities.
In terms of records that you think were important for you, you know as a musician and artist, I wonder are there certain albums you think of that you’re obsessed with?
DMcM: I sort of have my favourite albums of all time that informs me a musical human and then there’s the music that I listen to today which is very different. I mean today, the only new music is electronic music and instrumental music from Europe. But the albums that informed me as a kid you know, ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ by Big Star, ‘Forever Changes’ by Love, ‘Happy Sad’ by Tim Buckley, the ‘White Album’, ‘Exile On Main St’, ‘American Beauty’ by the Grateful Dead and the band The Las from Liverpool. Those are the albums I’ve been listening to since I was thirteen or fourteen. They’re like the bunch of records that are like my favourite of all time. But I’ve listened to so much over the years, it’s like a million different realms. At my core, I would say those are some of my favourite records.
It’s cool too I’m sure you find yourself coming back to them again and again?
DMcM: Oh yeah, I’ve listened to those records like thousands of times.
And with the touring recently Damon, I’d be curious to know if some of the songs have changed since you started touring a few months ago?
DMcM: They do change, you know. My favourite singers like Bob Dylan, Alex Chilton, Tim Buckley, people that change their own songs frequently you know, so I definitely like to do that as well. So, you know I’ll try to alter the lyrics and alter the melody line when I play live and Jordi does that too on guitar. It keeps it interesting.
It’s very exciting for me to be in Ireland because half of my family are of Irish descent; half of them are from Galway and half of them are from Belfast. So it’s going to be very meaningful for me to be there. So far, the Irish fans have been amazing. We met some Irish people in Manchester and they came to see us again in London, they were really awesome, very warm and generous.
‘Love’ is available now on Sacred Bones.
Amen Dunes performs at The Workmans Club, Dublin (Tuesday 23rd September), Dolans, Limerick (Wednesday 24th September) and The Black Mariah @ Triskel Christchurch, Cork on Thursday 25th September. For full US and EU tour dates, please see HERE.
‘Do Not Wait For Better Times’ [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. The Peep Show ‘Do Not Wait For Better Times’ [Tenth Planet]
02. The Moles ‘Lonely Hearts Get What They Deserve’ [Fire]
03. Craig Leon ‘Nommo’ [RVNG Intl]
04. K. Leimer ‘Lonely Boy’ [RVNG Intl]
05. Sharon Van Etten ‘Break Me’ [Jagjaguwar]
06. Emerald Web ‘Dreamspun’ [Stargate]
07. Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler ‘The White Balloon’ [Thrill Jockey]
08. Amen Dunes ‘Lilac In Hand’ [Sacred Bones]
09. The Necks ‘The Boys III’ [‘The Boys’ OST / Fish Of Milk]
10. Erik K Skodvin ‘Shining, Burning’ [Sonic Pieces]
11. Hildur Guðnadóttir ‘Heyr Himnasmiður’ [Touch]
12. Ela Stiles ‘Anything’ [Fire / Bedroom Suck]
13. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh ‘what what what’ [Diatribe]
14. Margaret Barry ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ (Long Version) [Rounder]
15. Robbie Basho ‘Leaf in the Wind’ [Gnome Life]
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.