One of Ireland’s finest and most intriguing songwriters, Dublin-based and Waterford-born Katie Kim has two albums to date, beginning with the 2008 debut solo album “Twelve” and 2012’s seminal masterwork, the double album “Cover&Flood”. Also available is “The Feast”, a collection of ten previously unreleased remixes of songs from “Cover&Flood” while the “VALUTS” series compiles various unreleased songs. Katie Kim has supported the likes of Low and Slint to date and her influences stem from the realms of experimental, folk, post-rock, shoegaze, ambient and outsider folk. Kim’s distinctive sound is characterized by her fragile vocals, breathtaking lyricism and a constant striving for both purity and simplicity in her truly unique and utterly beguiling recorded output (akin to Grouper’s Liz Harris or early period Cat Power) casting a deeply profound spell on the listener in turn.
Fractured Air 36: Place Of You (A Mixtape by Katie Kim)
To listen on Mixcloud:
01. Slint ‘Washer’ [Touch And Go] / Werner Herzog [Excerpt from ‘Burden Of Dreams’]
02. Low ‘Words’ [Vernon Yard Recordings]
03. The Singing Nun ‘Dominique’ [Philips]
04. Wreckless Eric ‘I’d Go The Whole Wide World’ [Stiff]
05. Beck ‘Cyanide Breath Mint’ [K, XL]
06. Daniel Johnston ‘Dead Lovers Twisted Heart’ [Eternal Yip Eye Music]
07. The Beatles ‘Across The Universe’ [Apple]
08. Werner Herzog [Interview Excerpt]
09. William Basinski ‘d|p 1.1’ 
10. Rose McGowan ‘Doom Generation’ (Excerpt) [American Recordings]
11. Howard Skempton ‘Lento’ [NMC]
12. Chirps ‘The Static Spectacle’ [Bandcamp]
13. Dean Blunt ‘I Run New York’ [Hippos In Tanks, World Music]
14. Julian Lynch ‘Garden 2’ [Underwater Peoples]
15. Vincent Gallo ‘I Wrote This Song For The Girl Paris Hilton’ [Warp]
16. John Jacob Niles ‘Go ‘way From My Window’ [LM Dupli-Cation]
17. Sister Irene O’Connor ‘Fire’ [Philips]
18. Kría Brekkan ‘Place Of You’ [Paw Tracks]
19. My Bloody Valentine ‘I Need No Trust’ [Creation]
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 Peter Broderick.
“As for the gift of music . . . I honestly don’t know what I would do without music. That’s impossible to imagine.”
Words: Mark Carry
Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk once described to me how Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick – his Erased Tapes label-mates who collaborated closely with the legendary composer on his enchanting album ‘Corollaries’ – have an “inner vision” of the music he was creating. This inner vision and deep musical understanding has formed the cornerstone to Broderick’s sacred songbook (and indeed for Berlin-based composer Frahm) these past few years. This particular conversation with Lubomyr ascended to the forefront of my mind as I witnessed Broderick’s solo concert last November in Cork, Ireland. A fleeting magic and ceaseless wave of transcendence flooded the human space: from the opening a cappella verse of ‘Sideline’ to the achingly beautiful solo piano of ‘Pulling The Rain’. In the heart of the early winter’s night arrived the deeply affecting lament, ‘Rainy Day’ – a song written by Peter’s mother, which she would sing to her beloved children on many occasions – evoking the timeless spirit of Townes Van Zandt and Jackson C Frank that would form a lovely parallel with ‘Pop’s Song’ – an utterly transcendent moment from a previous Broderick live performance – built on a gorgeous guitar melody composed by Peter’s own father.
Elsewhere in the set, songs from the new record ‘Colours Of The Night’ ascended into the atmosphere. The album’s glorious and uplifting title-track ‘Colours Of The Night’ (the studio version shares the illuminating spark of Peter’s dub-inspired collaboration with Greg Haines–Greg Gives Peter Space), the timeless folk gem of ‘More And More’ (where the mouth trumpet conjures up the sound of an entire orchestra and sea of sadness), and the striking intimacy of organ-based ballad ‘If I Sinned’ (which undeniably forms one of the album’s defining moments).
The unique artistry of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick continues to enlighten and inspire on the latest full length, ‘Colours Of The Night’, which was recently released on Bella Union. Following on from last year’s sublime ‘(Colours Of The Night) Satellite’ EP – which served as a fitting prelude to the Oregon-native’s eagerly awaited album – the new record is another collection of shape-shifting sonic creations that came to light when invited for a so-called “recording residency” in the small Swiss town of Lucerne. Broderick developed a friendship with some of the locals who eventually got the idea of inviting the American musician to be a guest of the city for three weeks while recording an album with a backing band of local musicians. At the helm of the studio was Timo Keller, a local producer and engineer known primarily for his involvement in the Swiss hip-hop scene. A richly diverse sonic palette of sounds is masterfully crafted: the celestial harmonies of endearing pop gem ‘The Reconnection’; the psychedelic groove of ‘Get On With Your Life’; the wonderfully Afrobeat-tinged ‘One Way’ and towering folk opus ‘Red Earth’ with its warm percussion, scintillating melodies and poetic prose.
If ever a lyric epitomised the spirit of an album it would be the revelatory Americana torch-lit ballad ‘Our Best’ with Broderick’s empowering message to “give it your best now”. For Broderick’s music, the personality of the artist ceaselessly shines through. ‘Colours Of The Night’ becomes a source of strength, solace and hope.
‘Colours Of The Night’ is out now on Bella Union.
Interview with Peter Broderick.
It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions in relation to the gorgeous new album, ‘Colours of the Night’. Firstly congratulations on creating (yet another) truly shape-shifting and deeply affecting collection of songs. This record is significant in more ways than one, not least the fact that ‘Colours of the Night’ was recorded with a backing band. Can you please take me back to the Swiss town of Lucerne where the recording sessions took place? Introduce please the formidable cast of musicians who contributed so much to your unique songbook?
Peter Broderick: Lucerne is a beautiful little city just a little bit southwest of Zurich. I first went there in 2009 while on tour with Nils Frahm, and we had a wonderful evening at a venue called Treibhaus, complete with middle of the night lake swimming after the concert. After that I went back several more times to play there, and slowly established a relationship with some of the locals. One thing led to another, and eventually I got an email from Silvio Zeder (who was a booker at the Treibhaus for a while), inviting me to come to Lucerne and stay for a few weeks. The idea was that he would find a studio and backing band for me to play with, and I would record an album there. I thought this sounding like a fabulous idea, to spend a longer stretch of time in this town I always loved, and make music with a bunch of strangers. So I arrived there in May 2014 having never met any of the musicians and three weeks later I left with a finished album. We did all the recording at Studio Vom Dach, run by Timo Keller, who produced the album and found all the musicians for the band. I had met Timo once before briefly, and I knew we had a good vibe together. The main characters in the band were Nick Furrer on bass, Roland Wäspe on guitar, and Mario Hänni on drums. All of these guys had worked with Timo on different projects at one time or another, but they had never played all together. They also all play in a variety of different bands and projects in Switzerland. And then there are also some guest appearances from several other local musicians. A few different ladies came in to record vocals, and on a few songs there is a horn section consisting of four players who all recorded together live.
In huge contrast to recording music alone and being in a sort of insular world – developing ideas and recording them to tape – how was the experience of bringing songs to the table (so to speak) and allowing the songs travel in a direction that is (at times, at least) out of your control? In terms of the recording sessions, I would love for you to discuss the routine of these particular sessions and any particularly memorable moments that occurred (that in turn found its way on the final album)?
PB: I arrived in Lucerne feeling very open about the whole project. I was curious about the process of sending these songs of mine through the filter of these other people. My goal was to let everyone involved be as free as possible. I didn’t want to be too controlling. And once I heard the musicians play, it was really easy to trust them all. They’re all such great players. And since I’d never tried working with a band like that before, I was in awe of how it felt to have all these other people playing along on my songs. That said, there were definitely moments when I wanted to hear something specific and had to give a little direction, but I really tried to do it in a suggestive manner rather than saying it had to be a certain way. For most of the songs I simply started playing my guitar parts and singing and the guys would just start playing along. I remember when I played them the song ‘Colours Of The Night’, and Mario immediately jumped in with this shuffling African-style rhythm, and I just yelled out, “Yes!!!” What he did immediately changed the way I heard the song, in a really awesome way. I had to adapt the way I played the guitar part in order to fit his rhythm, and I found the whole process super exciting. For the most part we recorded all the basic tracks (drums, guitars and bass) live, playing all together, and on the last song, “More And More” we actually did the whole thing live, with the horns and everything.
I must ask you about the producer and engineer, Timo Keller who was at the helm for the ‘Colours of the Night’ sessions. This experience must have been very rewarding. Were there certain techniques or processes utilized by Timo that struck you? Looking over the album’s ten songs, I wonder did some songs undergo significant changes from the original sketches you first brought to the studio?
PB: I’ve been in countless different studios and worked with a lot of different engineers and producers, and it really is fascinating to witness all the different approaches. When Timo set me up to record vocals, he put a microphone in front of me and said, “Christina Aguilera sings into this same mic.” Haha! I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. But I really came to admire his production style. Certainly different from my own or someone like Nils Frahm who I worked with on my last album. Timo has spent most of his studio time working on hip-hop, so he spends a lot of time finessing drum sounds and likes things to sound really crisp and tight. There are a couple of songs on the album which Timo changed completely, most notably “On Time“, which began as a shuffling guitar-based song, and evolved into this strange cinematic synthy thing. One day Timo just completely changed the structure of it before I got to the studio. I was never quite sure how I felt about his version of the song, and actually the bass player thought the song had been ruined, but in my effort of giving up control and letting the songs turn into something else, I trusted Timo and went with his version.
The album’s title-track, ‘Colours of the Night’ is an old song, I recall you mentioning in the past. I love the various versions of this song, for example Greg Haines’ dub remix and indeed your own solo version in the recent past. Can you reminisce for me please your memories of writing this song and how it developed over the passing seasons and subsequent years? The final version is a truly uplifting and powerful tour-de-force, which really embodies the entire album.
PB: Indeed, that song has been around for a while, and perhaps that’s why I found it so refreshing when it changed so much during the recording process in Lucerne. I like to think of songs as entities that are alive, which grow and mutate through time and place. And this song in particular is one that never got old to me. I always enjoyed playing it, and I think that’s a really good sign. As for the writing of it, it’s all kind of jumble in my mind. It was kind of pieced together over time, so I can’t quite remember how and when some of the lyrics came about. The main guitar part is really old. I wrote that when I was 17 or 18. But at that time it was a completely different song with different words and vocal melodies. I always loved that guitar part though, and I was happy to be able to recycle it into a different song that I enjoy performing.
Being back home in America and your hometown of Oregon, it must be a lovely feeling to finally return to your roots. I feel themes such as perseverance through difficult times where an inner flame radiates throughout with this strength to overcome and indeed, to get on with your life. I would love for you to discuss the importance of home and indeed the invaluable meaning and significance the eternal gift of music gives you, Peter?
PB: Moving back to Oregon was so necessary for me. When I first moved to Europe in 2007, I thought I would never return to the states, but over time I really started to feel something was wrong, and it took me a long time to admit to myself that maybe I needed to go home for a while. And being back home hasn’t been all sunshine . . . there have been some difficult things I’ve had to face . . . but I really needed to face those things so that I could start to feel that real sense of home again. I really cherish my community of friends and family in Oregon, and I love being able to speak my mother-tongue freely and talk with strangers. It’s amazing how much more often I meet new people since I’ve moved back here. As for the gift of music . . . I honestly don’t know what I would do without music. That’s impossible to imagine. Yet at the same time, I’ve worked on broadening my interests over the last years. There are other great things in life too! Like making fires and cooking, walking around in nature, letting your inner child come out and being in awe of everything around you.
I feel ‘Red Earth’ is one of the most stunningly beautiful songs you have recorded to tape. The heavenly harmonies, poetic prose, rich instrumentation, and sheer emotional depth leaves you dumbfounded. Please talk me through the construction of ‘Red Earth’ please, and it’s meaning for you? I feel it’s the fitting prologue to ‘Colours of the Night’’s striking narrative.
PB: I’m so happy you like that song! That was one of the last songs we recorded, and it was the only song that I wrote while I was there in Switzerland. I spent several nights up at an old farmhouse called Rotebode (which translates to ‘red earth’ or ‘red ground’) about 30 minutes outside of Lucerne, and that song was written there. The first sound you hear on the album is the sound of the creek that runs outside of that farmhouse, which I was hearing as I wrote the song. One of guys who lives up there is a painter, and the second time I stayed there he gave me a painting he made with a character looking out over a landscape, seemingly about to take flight. I asked him if the character was a dragon, and he said, “Yeah, or a bird, or a man, or something…” So that’s how those first lines of the song came about. (Got a picture of a dragon bird man / Guess it was waiting for me.) I know Timo was especially happy with that song too. From a production standpoint, that song encapsulates a lot of what he was aiming for with this project.
As ever, a myriad of ideas is effortlessly embedded in the music. I love the wide range of compelling sounds: recalling the vocal experiments of ‘These Walls Of Mine’, the endearing warmth of ‘Home’, the dub-infused grooves of Greg Gives Peter Space and beyond. What lies next in the musical narrative, Peter? Please shed some light on any forthcoming projects and plans.
PB: Well, I do plan to play some concerts this year in support of the album. Mostly in Europe, but also a few in America and maybe also Asia later in the year. These days I am primarily busy running a little studio called The Sparkle out of my home in a tiny little town on the Oregon coast. There will be a lot of records coming out this year which were produced here, including a new album by my sister, Heather Woods Broderick, an album by one of my new favourite musicians named David Allred, a collaboration between myself and one of my most beloved artists in the world, Félicia Atkinson. Our project together is called La Nuit and I’m incredibly excited about that! Other artists with albums that I recently worked on which will be out relatively soon include Chantal Acda, Corrina Repp, Shelley Short, Maymay, and a 7″ by Rauelsson. Another thing I’d like to mention is that I recently started a choir in Portland. We rehearse on Sunday mornings, and it’s very loose. We do a lot of improvisation and also try to write songs all together. We are slowly collecting recordings with the aim of releasing and album one day. That’s been a really invigorating project.
I generally only work with people I get a good feeling from on a personal level. I’m less concerned about what kind of music we’ll be making and more concerned about whether we’ll have a good time together. It’s truly rewarding to work on music with a vast array of different musicians. Everyone has a different approach, and I always learn something new from each different artist.
‘Colours Of The Night’ is out now on Bella Union.
Fractured Air Presents: COLLEEN (FRA) w/ special guest Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (IRE) / Cork Opera House / SUNDAY 3 MAY 2015
We’re delighted to be presenting the following double-bill concert with world-renowned composers Cécile Schott (Colleen) and Meteor Choice Music Award winning Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (The Gloaming, This Is How We Fly). This is Colleen’s only Irish date for her 2015 European tour to promote her latest fifth studio album ‘Captain Of None’, released earlier this April via Thrill Jockey Records. Both artists have mastered their own respective instruments of choice; Schott’s treble viola da gamba and Ó Raghallaigh’s ten-string Hardanger d’Amore fiddle. Join both musicians on the Cork Opera House stage (literally) for an intimate gig set up to bring the audience right into the heart of the music. Concert takes place this Sunday 3 May, doors are 8pm and tickets are €17.50.
Tickets are available now from the Cork Opera House Box Office (Emmet Place, Cork), telephone: + 353 (0) 21 – 427 0022, or online from the following link:
COLLEEN (FRA/Thrill Jockey)
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 highly acclaimed fifth studio album ‘Captain Of None’ was released by Chicago-based label Thrill Jockey Records in April 2015.
‘Captain Of None’ is characterized by a stripped-back sound palette (Schott adopts the use of two main instruments; the treble viola da gamba and voice) and finds Schott embracing her long-term love for Jamaican music in terms of the construction of her own songs (production ideas and experimentation with sound). The album was recorded entirely in her home San Sebastian studio, where two key things happened. Firstly, Schott wished to add basslines to her own music, which lead to her using an Octaver Pedal to create bass sounds (the pedal adds another octave below the original sound you are playing). Secondly, Schott began to use a Moogerfooger pedal to create the delay effects crucial to the dub reggae sound aesthetic. ‘Captain Of None’, together with it’s predecessor, 2013’s ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, journeys Schott’s natural and beautiful transformation from instrumentalist to lyricist, where Schott’s songbook details the inner human life (“so rich and complex it’s just impossible to really understand it and that’s what is really fascinating”).
Colleen’s performance at Cork Opera House will mark Cécile Schott’s eagerly-awaited return to Cork to mark the release of ‘Captain Of None’, her fifth studio album. This is Colleen’s only Irish live performance.
Selected Press for ‘Captain Of None’:
“Colleen essentially provides a journey to this mysterious, elusive heart, one that requires an open mind and sense of adventure… valiant and genre-defying.”
“…the whole thing carves out and inhabits a persuasively exotic world of echo that invites total immersion.”
“…positively vibrate with melodic ideas… the way Colleen uses classical acoustic instruments to reconfigure modern idioms recalls Arthur Russell’s cello-driven World of Echo or Hauschka… Somehow, Schott is able to make these disparate elements feel organic and effortless.”
“The result is gorgeous, like a quietly brewing storm of layered pizzicatos, bouncing off the walls and grazing your ears as they glide past you.”
“Captain of None is her most ambitious [album] to date. The elegiac vocal elements that buoyed its predecessor are now well and truly on the surface.”
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (IRE/The Gloaming, This Is How We Fly)
Ireland’s Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh plays traditional and contemporary folk music on Hardanger d’Amore and other fiddles. The masterful musician and gifted composer is undoubtedly a national treasure; heralding a distinctive and utterly compelling voice in Irish contemporary music. In addition to being an established solo artist, he performs with two groups The Gloaming and This is How we Fly, in duos with Dan Trueman, Mick O’Brien & Brendan Begley, a trio with Martin Hayes & Peadar Ó Riada, and as part of many other collaborative projects.
2014 was a remarkable year for Ireland-based composer Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. Firstly, January ‘14 saw the release of contemporary quintet The Gloaming’s stunning self-titled debut album via Real World Records. Subsequent concerts would be performed across the globe (including Sydney’s Opera House) to mass celebration and widespread critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. As well as touring with his other band, the Irish/Swedish quartet This Is How We Fly, across both Ireland and Europe (and most recently across the U.S.), Ó Raghallaigh also performed a series of truly special solo concerts (entitled “In My Mind”, a solo fiddle and film show) across the length of Ireland for the month of October, organized by Irish Music Network. Despite the hectic touring schedules, Ó Raghallaigh also released two stunning albums: the solo album ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’ (via Dublin-based label Diatribe Records) and the mesmerizing ‘Laghdú’, a collaboration with U.S. fiddle player Dan Trueman. The Gloaming’s self-titled debut album was recently awarded the prestigious Meteor Choice Music Prize for 2015.
“a seamless and unfettered soundscape… there’s enough space and light here for influences as diverse as baroque to minimalism to breathe free… the work of musicians reveling in the moment: a rare find.”
(The Irish Times)
“possibly one of the most fulsome and beautiful recordings I have ever heard. Great music has this magnificent power over us, a power to which the heart must yield always and without regret.”
(Iarla Ó Lionáird)
“ASTOUNDING… Replete with unexpected melodic twists and turns, the tunes are highly cinematic, painting richly impressionistic images.”
(Colm O’Hare, Hot Press)
Fractured Air Presents: COLLEEN (FRA) w/ special guest Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (IRE), Sunday 3 May 2015, Cork Opera House, Tickets: €17.50, Doors: 8pm.
Tickets are available now from the Cork Opera House Box Office (Emmet Place, Cork), telephone: + 353 (0) 21 – 427 0022, or online from the following link:
Interview with David Allred.
“I learned a lot from those experiences but eventually grew tired of learning jazz standards and wanted to start creating my own music. I think my jazz background will always only play a subconscious role in the process of making my own experimental song-writer music.”
Words: Mark Carry
A beautiful package of new music arrived to my home back in early spring. Addressed from Oregon, USA, it soon became clear that the source of this special musical discovery (music, such poignant, powerful and beautiful music!) was the special soul of American composer Peter Broderick. The album in question was ‘Midstory’ by a young singer-songwriter named David Allred, which was co-arranged and recorded by Peter Broderick at his own studio on the Oregon coast (appropriately dubbed The Sparkle). The album’s twelve songs is nothing short of revelatory where each song inhabits a far-reaching place steeped in heart, honesty and undeniable genius. The otherworldly folk-based songs – dotted with a cosmic collage of jazz, ambient and modern-classical kaleidoscope of sound – feel akin to Broderick’s own solo works as genres and borders are blurred, leaving the listener to truly get lost in the deep dimensions of the empowering sonic creations.
A beautifully written card was included with ‘Midstory’ where Peter’s words of sheer excitement for his friend’s new music was immediately evident: “I wanted to share this very special record with you by my friend David Allred”. The story behind the music and the eventual meeting of these two kindred spirits leads us on a sort of dream-like travelogue. The young musician had transcribed one of Broderick’s piano songs, ‘Pulling The Rain’ (from 2010’s ‘How They Are’) and emailed Peter his results. Forward a couple of years, Allred played bass and trumpet with Greg Gives Peter Space (the exceptional dub-inspired collaboration between Broderick and Greg Haines, whose debut record was released on Erased Tapes) as they toured the west coast of the U.S. Described by Broderick as “possibly the most dedicated musician I’ve ever met”, Allred’s music is bewitching, puzzling and awe-inspiring. Having already released a plethora of releases – reflecting the seamless array of ideas and the musician’s rich musical imagination – the arrival of ‘Midstory’ comes with a special sense of discovery and anticipation.
Born in 1992, Allred grew up in California near the city of Sacramento. After falling in love with the trumpet, he decided to study jazz and could be found transcribing and recreating the solos of Chet Baker. Soon, the young musician’s curiosity led to musical paths beyond genre definitions. He started to sing, play the guitar, upright bass, piano and in his late teens and early twenties, he started to record his own music (sometimes as frequently as one a month). These early recordings caught the ear of Broderick who moved back to his home state of Oregon around the same time that David moved to Portland in 2013. The resulting collaboration resulted in ‘Midstory’, recently released on Germany’s Oscarson imprint. Full of layered voices and a large variety of instrumentation, Allred’s music – and particularly the joyous collaboration between these two like-minded souls – conveys the infinite possibilities of music and how every so often, a record comes along to remind you of this simple, powerful truth.
Towards the close of the jazz-infused song cycle of ‘Running Out Of Color’, an exclamation of ‘Wow!’ is heard from Broderick, which somehow sums up the compelling journey of ‘Midstory’. The pristine instrumentation of guitar, upright bass, layered voices, trumpet, keyboard, celeste, violin, banjo, synth and percussion forms the perfect colours, textures and canvas for Allred’s singular creations. The record begins and closes with an acapella song. Allred sings “Don’t you wish you could find that part inside your heart that tells you” on ‘Don’t You Wish’ that evokes the spirit of Sam Amidon and the vocal-based experiments of Broderick’s ‘These Walls Of Mine’. The song centres on finding your home and in many ways, ‘Midstory’ feels like a reconnection to your roots. ‘Oregon’ is a gorgeous love letter to the California-born’s adopted state, complete with majestic strings, warm nylon guitar notes and celestial harmonies. The utterly transcendent ‘Again And Again’ is one of ‘Midstory’s defining moments. The heartfelt lament’s opening verse immediately casts a magical spell where Allred sings “Again and again/We are taught the principles of honesty/In a world where truth can’t be tolerated”. The deeply affecting ballad evolves into a soaring cinematic opus, reminiscent of Heather Woods Broderick’s ‘From The Ground’ LP. The closing choral refrain of ‘When Time Flies’ evokes the passing of time, memories, nostalgia and life’s fleeting moments. ‘Midstory’ makes the surrounding space a brighter place. Like his trusted collaborator friend, David Allred “continues to inspire all things” and we, the listener are forever grateful for that.
‘Midstory’ is out now on Oscarson.
Interview with David Allred.
Congratulations David on the truly remarkable new record, ‘Midstory’. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about this spell-binding collection of visionary pop songs. The music was co-arranged and recorded by Peter Broderick at the Sparkle in Oregon. I would love for you to discuss the recording sessions for ‘Midstory’ and indeed the day-to-day routine of collaborating closely with Peter? It’s such a beautiful (and deep) musical connection that is forged between you both, and makes for such an enriching journey that effortlessly seeps into the album’s twelve songs.
David Allred: Every recording session I had with Peter was always an incredible experience. Peter has been one of my biggest musical idols for many years and I always dreamed of meeting him one day. And now after moving to Portland, Oregon, Peter and I developed a close friendship and musical relationship that I never imagined happening so soon in my life and I am extremely blessed for having this connection with him.
Peter and I first had a recording session for 6 straight days at The Sparkle. During that time we were joined by Alicyn Yaffee, who contributed some beautiful electric guitar and vocal harmonies on the record.
I wrote the music for ‘Midstory‘ without any idea of how I wanted the songs to be arranged. Once we recorded the basic structure for each song, Peter and I would throw ideas back and forth until we got the right fullness of sound that we were happy with. It was a very enjoyable process to create the arrangements which came together very organically.
One of the great hallmarks of this record is the wide range of instrumentation used throughout and also this sense of adventure and willingness to explore every possible avenue of sound. For example, the gorgeous album opener ‘Don’t You Wish’ is a gleaming psych pop treasure built on beautiful nylon guitar notes and mesmerising vocal harmonies, synths & violin passages. Please discuss the layering of songs such as ‘Don’t You Wish’ – and indeed the album as a whole – where endless moments of stunning beauty unfolds before the listener.
DA: The album starts and ends with an acapella song. The songs with a wide variety of instrumentation happen in-between the 2 acapella pieces. ‘Don’t you wish’ is the first song which turned out to sound like sort of a world-music acapella piece with the background choir interacting with the lead vocal melody. There are also 6 songs on the record that were originally written for guitar and voice, 3 songs that were written for upright bass and voice, and 1 instrumental song which have all evolved into pieces of music with thick arrangements of strings, brass, background vocal harmonies, percussion, keyboards, backwards talking, and more.
‘Midstory’ has a wide spectrum of styles and sounds: jazz, folk, pop and utterly beguiling sonic experimentations to take your breath away. Please take me back to California where you grew up, David. Describe your surroundings and what it was like growing up there? Also, I would love for you to reminisce for me your introduction to the trumpet instrument and the world of jazz? Would this have informed your musical upbringing so to speak? It is these beautiful jazz nuances that form such a vital part to ‘Midstory’’s narrative.
DA: I was born in Sacramento, California and lived in that general area of central CA before moving to Portland in 2013. In 5th grade, I picked up the trumpet in school and took private lessons in 8th grade from a wonderful teacher named Dave Metzker. In my first year of high school I started a goofy experimental band outside of school called Strawberrier with my friends Greg Eldridge, Daniel Nickerson and Andy Page. Strawberrier turned out to be the first opportunity I had to explore new musical genres and instrumentation. In high school/ early college I was involved in a number of jazz ensembles playing the trumpet, upright bass and singing in vocal jazz ensembles. I learned a lot from those experiences but eventually grew tired of learning jazz standards and wanted to start creating my own music. I think my jazz background will always only play a subconscious role in the process of making my own experimental song-writer music. Although, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now if I never had the experience of learning jazz standards.
I am only new to your music with ‘Midstory’ being my starting point. Please discuss the plethora of releases you have made to date. Has the creative process changed dramatically between each release of yours?
DA: I’m now into my 3rd year of writing songs and in that time, I’ve averaged releasing 5 albums per year; all of which were self-releases and almost never made into physical copies. I recently took some of these albums down from the internet because I felt as though my musical style has grown too far apart from the first collection of songs I started releasing. In the process of writing and putting out that much music in such a small amount of time, I’ve really learned the value of reserving songs for the future. I have been much happier with my recent releases because I made sure to only include songs that I felt were adding quality to the album without an overbearing quantity of songs. There was even a handful of songs I didn’t end up recording for ‘Midstory‘ because I wanted to craft the right collection of songs that sit well together to be released on the record. And some of those songs that I have up on the shelf right now may very well make their way onto a new record someday in the future.
‘Again and Again’ is such a towering achievement. There is an honesty, immediacy and sincerity deep inside the song that hits you hard. The sublime guitar lines are a joy to witness and the myriad of warm percussion that arrives later. What are your memories of writing this particular song, David? I feel this song evolved (and blossomed) quite wonderfully while recording in The Sparkle?
DA: I remember writing this song back when I lived in California in 2012, around the time I started teaching myself guitar. ‘Again and Again‘ and ‘Path Less Taken‘ are the only two songs on ‘Midstory‘ that I previously recorded/ released on earlier albums and wanted to rework them. I mostly chose these two because I still feel attached to these songs and I also felt like they had potential to sound greater than they did in their earlier stages. Peter also suggested I re-record a couple of my older songs for this record in addition to the brand new ones. I don’t think I generally identify too strongly with any songs I write in general because I’m always changing over time. I think I might always naturally identify with songs a lot more in the moment of creating them rather than after they are finished.
‘Oregon’ serves a love letter to your home of Oregon since moving there in 2013. I would be curious to know would the majority of these songs originate from demos of you and your trusted nylon guitar? What sources of inspiration do you feel Oregon and this part of the world gives you (and brings to your artistic senses)?
DA: I have been really fortunate to live in Oregon at the time I moved here. A lot of good things in my life have since lined up really well in my favour. There’s also a lot more nature in the Portland area as opposed to the central California area I came from so I put in a great effort to spend as much time outdoors as I can; which in this case, was the main source of inspiration for this particular song.
I usually always try to record demos which is good because I’m amazed with how quickly I forget new song ideas. I usually do it as a documentation of an idea that I know I will want to come back to and spend time on.
What is next for you, David? In what way do you feel the follow-up to ‘Midstory’ may bloom into? What are your most cherished memories from this special document of ‘Midstory’?
DA: Some of the most cherished moments I had when recording this record almost always revert back to how much I enjoyed collaborating immensely with Peter. Between the two of us, we both contributed a super wide variety of ideas and I truly felt like we were on the same page the entire time we worked at it. I couldn’t be happier with the way this album came together.
The next bit of news I have coming up is that I’ll soon be releasing a new stop-motion music video for the first track “Don’t You Wish” with beautiful illustrations from Jess DeSa the day my album comes out on the Oscarson Label: 20/04/2015.
Lastly, please discuss the records you’ve been heavily immersed in of late? Or indeed books, poetry, films etc!
DA: Lately I’ve been obsessed with Twin Peaks. I’m really looking forward to that show coming back after 25 years. Musicians I’ve been listening to: Nick Drake, Molly Drake, Arthur Russell, Johanna Warren, Heather Woods Broderick, Elliott Smith, Chantal Acda, Kate Wolf, Sir Millard Mulch, Secret Chiefs 3, Sibylle Baier, Brian Eno, Lee Hazlewood, etc. Right now I’m reading a book called “The Truth, Finally” by Bob Zmuda and Lynne Margulies. Andy Kaufman is one of the most inspiring figures in my life right now.
‘Midstory’ is out now on Oscarson.
Interview with Thomas Meluch.
“I’d spend 3 or 4 mornings a week at some park or other in the midst of a long bike ride, taping the sounds of anything I could find that was loud enough. The trains and beach-combers at Golden Gardens, the dozens of bird species along the Sammamish River, the weird corners of the so-called ‘Factoria’ industrial area.”
Words: Mark Carry
‘Sonnet’ is the fifth Kranky album by Thomas Meluch under his musical alias Benoît Pioulard, following the 2006 debut full-length ‘Précis’, ‘Temper’ (2008), ‘Lasted’ (2010) and 2013’s ‘Hymnal’. The American sound sculptor – in a similar fashion to his label-mates Loscil, Grouper and Pan American – has amassed a rich body of empowering work, seamlessly creating some of the most affecting and captivating ambient-based compositions of the past decade.
The latest record ‘Sonnet’ represents quite a significant departure for the Seattle-based musician (in contrast to previous records that consisted of more song-oriented structures with the core instrumentation of guitar and voice) but ‘Sonnet’’s divine world of swirling ambient sounds and luminous guitar tones – awash with a myriad of field recordings and found sounds – feels like an awakening; steeped in raw emotion and feeling. In many ways, ‘Sonnet’ feels very closely related to Meluch’s previous recording output: capturing the infinite array of transcendent moments that are dotted across the multi-instrumentalist’s sacred songbook.
The album was recorded in the summer and fall of 2013; some harmony loops originated from some vivid dreams experienced by Meluch. Furthermore, no digital/software alterations can be found on the album, which further heightens the experience and sense of emotional journey that sublime ambient compositions such as ‘The Gilded Fear That Guides The Flow’, ‘Of Everything That Rhymes’ and ‘An Image Apart From Ourselves’ guide you on. A seamless array of guitar loops are masterfully crafted by Meluch – many of which were mimicked from found sounds such as bird songs, locust drones and so on – which in turn creates a ceaselessly radiant light of sacred tones soaked in true transcendence.
‘Sonnet’ is out now on Kranky.
Interview with Thomas Meluch.
Congratulations on the sublime new record, ‘Sonnet’. It’s a real pleasure to speak with you again about this new record. First of all, it’s wonderful to see how ‘Sonnet’ represents quite a significant departure for you (in contrast to previous records) but after many re-visits, in many ways the record feels very closely related: capturing the infinite array of transcendent moments that are dotted across the Benoit Pioulard songbook. Please take me back to the summer and fall of 2013 – the space and time this record was created – and how the songs evolved into their final entities? Was there a moment during this time that you felt these songs would be primarily-based on field recordings?
Thomas Meluch: After recording ‘Hymnal’ I felt no drive to write songs with structure and vocals the way that I have for a long time, so after leaving the UK and taking six months to finally settle down in Seattle I satisfied my creative needs by focusing on field recordings — initially this was an excuse to get out & about and re-familiarize myself with the city, but it became a pretty obsessive project by the summertime. I’d spend 3 or 4 mornings a week at some park or other in the midst of a long bike ride, taping the sounds of anything I could find that was loud enough. The trains and beach-combers at Golden Gardens, the dozens of bird species along the Sammamish River, the weird corners of the so-called ‘Factoria’ industrial area. I began to notice that a lot of these things contained subtle harmonies and repetitions, so when I was more in the mood to pick up the guitar I used those recordings as a primary motivation and things evolved from there.
I was very interested to read how you described ‘Sonnet’ as “an exercise in restraint”, a sentiment which echoes powerfully throughout these divine ambient explorations. In my mind, the record inhabits this other-worldly dimension of your label-mate, Loscil and feels certainly like a distant companion to your previous LP, ‘Hymnal’ (and actually more specifically, the ‘Hymnal’ remix record). I would love to gain an insight into your mind-set and indeed this exercise of creating musical compositions that were centred on field recordings from a plethora of found sounds that you were surrounded by?
TM: This is what I was talking about before, but the bit about restraint, well that came from the realization that if I were trying to interpret these sounds that occur in their pristine, unadorned form, I ought to follow that same guideline shouldn’t I? I remember recording ‘Précis‘ ten years ago, thinking how lucky I’d gotten to pair with a label as amazing as kranky and figuring I’d release one record and be dropped — so I wanted to put every musical idea I’d ever had into it, which is why it’s a pretty dense record by my own measure. Now that I’m significantly older and have found a sort of niche with what I do, it’s wonderful to be feel so comfortable doing whatever I please compositionally without any similar worries.
The record works as one large cohesive whole as opposed to a collection of individual tracks (which of course it is as well!) One of the defining moments arrives half-way through with the arrival of your voice on ‘A Shade Of Celadon’, forming ‘Sonnet’s shimmering centrepiece. What I love is how when certain elements arrive into the forefront of the mix (for example, your voice on ‘A Shade Of Celadon’), it immediately makes a profound impact. Can you talk me through the sequencing of the record, Tom and indeed how you wanted the record to only contain what you felt was absolutely essential?
TM: It required months, really — the track titles alone took several weeks of obsessive revision in order to work the way I wanted them to, to the point that it kept me up some nights. I realize that’s ridiculous, but this is what happens when I feel on the cusp of attaining a particular result. Once I was about halfway finished recording the album and had a general structure in mind, I kind of let that idea guide the subsequent compositions in certain ways to create the flow I heard in my head. As a former film student I put a great emphasis on pacing, which is something that results more from gut feeling than anything else. Each piece is loop-based but as a whole I didn’t relish the thought of repeating anything across the span of the record.
My current favourite is ‘Of Everything That Rhymes’; a pristine ambient cut where an ethereal feel permeates throughout. Please discuss the instrumentation utilized here and your memories of creating this particular piece? The beautiful harmonies could trace the moonlit skies or waves of vast blue seas such is its stunning beauty.
TM: This is one that’s mostly the result of a lucky accident — the song begins with a loop of bowed bells on tape, which I originally played in an arbitrary succession. When the loop was constructed it had this very distinct progression that I built on with voice and bowed bass, which are the main parts of the rest of the song. The bubbling guitar parts in the left and right channels are also constructed with random engagement of the loop pedal with different loop lengths, so they interact with each other uniquely on each cycle.
The song-titles chosen for each of these fourteen songs feel very important and considered. The words themselves (without the accompanying music) feel like chapters to a novel – or indeed form a sonnet, so to speak – as a striking narrative is forged. I wonder was there certain inspiration drawn from the choice of these song-titles?
TM: Like I said it took an awfully long time to reach the final sequence of song titles. Some are alliterative twins (‘As would a weaver’ and ‘That wounded weathered’) whose sounds are mirror images to me and there are some other common threads running through them that people can take to mean what they like. But the first title I had in mind was ‘The gilded fear that guides the flow’, which for me is the fear of death I experienced acutely for the first time after the passing in short succession of all my grandparents a few years ago. It was even going to be the title of the album for a while. The ‘break arch’ is part of certain kinds of clocks, which relates to my wife’s profession in horology. ‘Shut-ins on Sunday see’ refers to my grandmother watching church sermons on TV on Sunday mornings at 6am after she was no longer physically able to attend mass in-person. And so on.
No digital/software manipulation was carried out on ‘Sonnet’. Please discuss the studio set-up and indeed your love and fascination with analog tape? I can imagine the recording process felt quite a liberating experience when you found yourself creating music from strictly organic means?
TM: My love of tape began with my first cassette deck at the age of 6 or 7, and my realization that you could transform any tape into a recordable one and document any sound you want. I’ve never gotten tired of the way that analog tape softens the edges of whatever you put on it, makes it warmer and friendlier to the ear. Simplifying things as I did with this record, I did feel a different part of my brain activated — a less mathematical and more emotional one, I think. I primarily used the instruments listed on the sleeve (guitar, bass, voice, bells, dulcimer, piano, and others) as well as the radio interference that occurs in my neighbourhood in the middle of the day and the four or five guitar pedals that I’ve had for about a decade now.
Lawrence English mastered the new record. I wonder in what way did ‘Sonnet’ change or transform after this process?
TM: It wasn’t a huge leap sonically but he tied everything together and created a fuller picture from the individual parts, made it a little warmer and dynamically cohesive. His ear is of course very well-tuned to organic sounds and to this type of work, so it was certainly a natural fit.
Another glorious track is ‘An Image Apart From Ourselves’. I must ask what exactly is the song’s rhythmic pulse? It feels like a series of voices which takes on quite a magical quality. Again, the record is full of so many happy accidents where this spark of creativity lies at the heart of ‘Sonnet’.
TM: Yes, that was the result of the aforementioned radio interference that occurs with my tube amplifier — one afternoon it was particularly intense when I was trying to record something, so I let go of my impatience and incorporated the voices into the piece after turning up the tremolo mix all the way.
The handmade edition of ‘Sonnet’ is a truly wonderful work of art in itself, Tom. Please talk me through the assembling of this special work? Also, the polaroids are sublime. Can you please discuss the correlation between photography – and the act of taking pictures – and creating music?
TM: Thanks! The handmade packages have become a kind of ‘reward’ for me once I finish a record, like I get to put my hands to something physical to accompany the music, which is an important connection for me. This time around I thought it’d be appropriate to make something subdued to balance out the vibrant colours of the record sleeve, hence the craft-paper zine with all the liner notes and xeroxed photos.. The second disc of music (‘Stanza’) is meant to be a kind of foil to the album, in that each piece was recorded with the same instrumentation and at a temporal remove of almost a year. By the time I recorded those pieces I had moved house, turned 30 and experienced a few other significant life changes, so packaging those two recordings together was meaningful for me as a way to reconcile my current and former lives, so to speak.
What is next for you, Tom?
TM: I never know — I’ve got half of another record written, but my passion currently lies with extended guitar improvisatons in my living room since I’ve moved to a bigger place in the last few months. It’s a productive form of healing whatever might be getting me down, and it’s the most selfish use of music that I can think of, but that’s not a crime is it?
‘Sonnet’ is out now on Kranky.
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.