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Chosen One: Padna

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Interview with Nat Hawks, Padna.

“I keep it intuitive. I love listening to partially finished tracks and allowing myself audio hallucinations. Then, I quickly record something similar before I forget! I often will just record my voice mimicking the sounds. On upcoming recordings, I’m going to take this further, composing entire tracks with my voice alone. Then build around the voice, like sloppy paper mache on a balloon.

Nat Hawks

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Sydney-based label Preservation released several momentous albums as part of the label’s Circa series during 2012, and Brooklyn-based Nat Hawks AKA Padna was one of the featured artists. The Circa series showcases the spirit and ethos of independent music, where beautiful artwork – sharing common designs and typography (depicting each artist name in a custom-made typographic alphabet)- adorns the sleeves of each artist’s personal work of art. The level of quality-control as ever is consistently high, with Panabrite’s electronic wizardry (‘The Baroque Atrium’), an utterly beautiful collaboration between Aaron Martin and Justin Wright (‘Light Poured Out Of Our Bones’), the low-key drones of Quiet Evenings AKA Rachel Evans (‘Transcending Spheres’) and Nickolas Mohanna’s detailed electronic explorations (‘Reflectors’). These are just some of the treasured records – all limited physical editions – brought to us by the formidable Australian independent label, and it is through this very Circa series, I crossed paths with Padna’s Nat Hawks.

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Hawks has been recording as Padna for the best part of a decade. Armed with Pro-tools and a 9-recordable tracks, and a vast collection of cherished instruments (including old casios, banjo, acoustic guitars, bells, analog synths and old contact mics), Hawks creates spellbinding ambient infused psychedelia with embellishes of drone and pop music. The latest album, ‘Burnt Offerings’ is wrapped in lo-fi warmth that showcases the most complete and fully realized album of Padna thus far. There is very much a refinement of the artist’s craft here, with the primary objective being to scale back, and the result is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of forgotten sound and drifting tones. The ultimate goal for Padna is to create “music that is challenging, but still practical.” The seven sonic creations contained on ‘Burnt Offerings’ has riches of organic instrumentation – slowly plucked notes of acoustic guitar, floating piano chords, voices and field recordings – but also expanses of mysterious synthetic elements – analog synthesizers, looped voice recordings, waves of electronic pulses – that effortlessly coalesce together, forming a cohesive organic whole.

Opening track ‘Didiidgduggg’ begins with wonderful drone infused noise soundscapes. As the track builds, lovely fragments of acoustic guitar passages seep into the frequencies of ambient pulses. The closing section sees a gradual rise of electronic tweaking as the piece falls perfectly into ‘Caphonic Fog’. A beguiling voice recording is looped beneath a central ambient piano melody. Most certainly, ‘Caphonic Fog’ is one of the many sublime moments the record has to offer. The voice seems to originate from a far-off land – distant and remote – and the effect I feel is similar to ‘Jesus Blood Has Never Failed Me Yet’ by Gavin Bryars. An ethereal dimension is tapped into, as the voice repeats “ways of being happy”, and the track is indeed an exploration of happiness, the search for joy in the large expansive surroundings of mist and fog. Waves of synthesizer descends upon the mix some minutes later, as the spoken word becomes progressively abstract as the layers of electronic textures envelop the piece.

‘Pelts’ is a beautiful acoustic-guitar led instrumental. The organic warmth of ‘Burnt Offerings’ is at its compelling best, as the clean guitar notes conjure up a deeply immersive and reflective mood. The instrumentation of harmonium that is added sometime later is looped, together with electronic sounds and samples. ‘Never Let Me Go’ opens with a beautiful spanish guitar melody with delicate arpeggios and plucked notes forming the song’s blood-flow. A glorious synthesizer melody forms a close dialogue with the lullaby like guitar refrain. An interstellar journey is created that is somewhere between Laurie Spiegel and Tortoise. As ever, the ebb and flow of the sonic creations are a joy to witness, as ‘Never Let Me Go’ fades into the psych haze of Shoeg’. The slow strum of acoustic guitar creates a dream-world of beautifully restrained ambient spheres of sound. The piece’s meditative quality is striking and as the banjo ascends upon us, a culmination of feeling and mood is beautifully arrived upon.

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‘Burnt Offerings’ is out now on Preservation.

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Interview with Nat Hawks, Padna.

Congratulations on your truly compelling ‘Burnt Offerings’ album. Tell me please about the recording of this album and the objectives you set out for yourself to achieve from the outset?

Thanks for the kind words! This album began as a live set that featured all but the last two songs. There is an annual holiday show in Syracuse, NY, where I’m from, and I try to write a new set for it each year. When I started creating a home-studio version of these songs I got to embellish them a bit, but tried to stay true to what the songs were like live. The last two tracks I never intended to play live, so felt particularly untethered there, in terms of how much ‘studio’ I was comfortable mixing in.

At the holiday show, I was subjugated to the cold entryway with mostly post-hardcore bands. Sound was blasting through the wall, the floor was wet, it was a disaster. The next night I invited my friends over to my parents’ house, we made a fire, and I played the set with the documentary Winged Migration playing behind me. Success!

Overall, a primary objective for this album was to scale back. I tend to pile layer-on-layer on a track, which is often more fun for me than the listener. I wanted more clarity on this album, more breathing room, or elbow room at least. Andrew from Preservation helped make some tough, but necessary, decisions on this front.

On each release I want to sound “more like Padna,” whatever that may be. This mindset helps me refine what I’m doing, without having to use evaluative wording like “better.”

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The wide array of sources and sounds on this album makes for a shape shifting tour-de force in drone, psychedelia and ambient explorations in sound. I would love to gain an insight into your creative process and the source of sounds and instrumentation you draw from?

I’ve been recording as Padna for about a decade. I have quite a few old albums! Having gone through the process so many times, I’m pretty comfortable starting a track from any starting point from a completed melody that needs to be dressed up, to a train-wreck of a track that needs to be torn apart.

I keep it intuitive. I love listening to partially finished tracks and allowing myself audio hallucinations. Then, I quickly record something similar before I forget! I often will just record my voice mimicking the sounds. On upcoming recordings, I’m going to take this further, composing entire tracks with my voice alone. Then build around the voice, like sloppy paper mache on a balloon.

I recently recorded my first melody composed in a dream. I’ve experienced many dream melodies, but I had never ‘caught’ one. Ideally, the entirety of my new album would be created through this process.

One of my great joys is hearing that sound in my head, and looking through my heaps of sound-things looking for the right object (or combination).

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My current favourite is Caphonic Fog’ with its meandering piano notes and looped vocal segments. This song represents the creative spirit that exudes from the recordings of ‘Burnt Offerings’. What formed this song; was it the piano melody or vocal treatment? I would love to hear how this song was formed and the song’s construction?

Thanks! I get to play an actual piano only when I visit my parents’ home, which happens, sadly, once-or-twice a year. And then, I often only get about an hour in. I always have my trusty tape recorder with me and try to get at least one usable melody.

For Caphonic, I wanted to turn the piano melody into a track to perform. Live, I looped the piano, looped a woman’s speech program voice, played a weird duck call I got at a Vermont Fair (a plastic cup with a string and a sponge bit), and soloed some vocoder on top. The synth melodies were added for the album-version, and the elements weren’t in tune with each other, which was a challenge.

It can be refreshing to work backwards from a track that was first created for the live setting, as limitations and restrictions have already helped the song coalesce into something relatively clean of excess. Then, assuming these tracks wouldn’t be played live anytime soon, I don’t hesitate when adding on a little here-and-there.

Growing up listening to REM and the Replacements, I was drawn to the ballads. They hit you harder! I wondered why groups wouldn’t JUST write ballads. I was so emo.

There’s a version of this song with a dub beat I really like, but it didn’t make sense for the album.

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The album was the final installment as part of the Preservation label’s Circa series. It must be wonderful to have your music released as part of this unique series and on a groundbreaking label such as Preservation?

Absolutely! I remain humbled and mystified that Andrew from Preservation sought me out. That event has fueled my spirits greatly. Andrew was very patient and helpful with how the album developed.

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What are your current inspirations? What bands are you listening to the most these days?

To be completely honest, there are few times in the day I can listen to music that is in the same realm as Padna. I have an early start to my morning, and a demanding job, so Crystal Castles blasting on my headphones is what gets me through work a lot. I love La Roux. I like keeping up with stuff like James Blake, new My Bloody Valentine, new Autechre, new Flaming Lips… I have to keep it pretty utilitarian.. Been listening to Laurie Spiegel’s Expanding Universe for the morning commute a lot. Trippple Nippples from Japan is the future.

On my subway ride home, I can free up my brain to listen to the slightly weirder stuff: Sublime Frequencies, Nurse with Wound, Coil, Pete Swanson, Vatican Shadow, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix …

At home I like to listen to vinyl. Huge fan of Dark Entries, Forced Nostalgia, and Minimal Waves reissues!!! Really like going to Other Music, and often pick up what they’re playing. They’ve influenced my tastes immensely over the years.

All that aside, I don’t often hear stuff that reminds me of what I do, but that’s probably a defense mechanism. I really enjoy the sound palate of a lot of new experimental stuff I hear, but want it to be used in a song structure, which I guess is what I’m going for.

A goal for Padna is music that is challenging, but still practical.

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You have been immersed in the DIY/cassette underground where many of your releases has caused a stir in the underground. Please discuss this music you’ve been making–I guess from a young age–and how it has developed?

My parents got me a guitar for my birthday when I was in 7th grade. I took guitar lessons and demanded I just learn Guns n’ Roses songs, which I did. I wasn’t very good and lost interest quickly.

I dusted the guitar off freshman year in high school when Nirvana hit and made new friends around mutual excitement for that music. We formed a psychedelic indie pop band, Mr. Pluto. I wrote the songs and tried to sing. I could never solo, ever, but I could put songs together in crafty ways.

When I moved to New York I started creating the 4-track recordings that would become Padna. Just playing guitar in weird ways through a delay pedal and mixing it strangely. Then I got the free ProTools with 9 recordable tracks and that’s when it really began for me.

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‘Pelts’ is a stunningly beautiful sonic creation. I love the acoustic guitar-led melody. The clean tones are blended gorgeously with electronic sounds. You are able to effortlessly combine the organic and synthetic elements, like bands such as Mountains. Please talk me through this song?

Cheers! I love Mountains! A close friend told me he liked Padna guitar-based songs. So when I set out to write these songs, I started on acoustic. I wrote the three guitar songs for this album in one day. It was towards the end of my summer vacation (I’m a teacher) and ‘play guitar’ was still on my list! For years now, I only play any music to write, record, or practice for a show, which is sad, but I have limited time for such things.

Pelts is a series of loops, with e-bow loops laid on top, then a contact mic scraping the ground. This is exactly how it sounded live.

I played this song for ninety 7th graders last year in my school auditorium, which was fun.

There’s an extension to this song that didn’t work for this album, holding onto it for an ep or something.

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The moment the banjo arrives into the mix, seven minutes in on ‘Shoeg’ is perhaps my favourite moment of ‘Burnt Offerings’. Discuss for me please your most preferred instrument at the moment and recount for me please the various instruments you have collected over the years?

Thanks for noticing that little banjo section! I like to visualize a song as a physical entity that we can’t see all of, can’t see around its corners. The banjo bit is meant to create that sense.

Over the years I have accumulated … accordion, trombone, banjo, old casios, cheap analog synth, harmonicas, flutes, bells, broken guitar peddles, bird calls, zither, didgeridoo, 99 cent toys, oddball contact mics from noise maverick Crank Sturgeon, dusty equalizers, household objects…

My most recent local acquisition is a home church organ! Very stoked. Will be featured heavily on the next album.

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What is next for you Nat?

Just wrapped up recording a piece I composed entirely of cd-skips from a Ralph Vaughn Williams track. My friend Chris McDonald, who mastered Burnt Offerings, mentioned RVW melodies remind him of mine sometimes, and I’m a huge RVW fan, so figured it was a sign. I burned a track to CDR, scratched it, compiled around 400 skips, took my favorite 200, and composed and performed a 40 minute piece using three channels of choreographed samples. I’ve done this process many times in the past with my ‘So Many Fish in Heaven’ series, which did this process generatively over multiple releases.

I’ve also got an ep of some tracks that didn’t fit on Burnt Offerings, an album of improvised material I made with my friend Carl Diehl while at a residency at the Experimental Television Center. I’m also in a droney-pastoral duo, Christian Science Minotaur, and a more beat, song-oriented trio, Hwi Noree, with finished recordings ready to go. Going to start looking for a home for these releases soon.

And it’s time to begin work on the new Padna full-length!

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‘Burnt Offerings’ is out now on Preservation.

http://www.preservation.com.au/product/padna-burnt-offerings
http://www.preservation.com.au

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Written by admin

August 16, 2013 at 10:26 am

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