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Chosen One: Örvar Smárason

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A lot of it depends on letting myself get into the situation where I can let things happen on their own, if that makes any sense.”

Örvar Smárason

Words: Mark Carry

4.by Birgisdóttir Ingibjörg

Light Is Liquid’ is the gorgeous debut solo album from one of the key musical figures in Iceland’s music community over the past two decades (with his bands múm, FM Belfast among others).

The lead single ‘Photoelectric’ begins with irresistible electronic pop hooks before guest vocalist Sillus further heightens the transcendental pop dimension. “Tell me a story” are the first words uttered; Örvar Smárason’s debut solo album feels like eight scintillating folk pop songs for the modern world. The myriad of warm textures and luminous beats evokes a dichotomy of worlds wherein radiant light and shimmering darkness become effortlessly fused across the record’s sublime sonic tapestry. Later, hypnotic vocoder processing ascends onto the infectious chorus (with the gorgeous refrain of “I’m not in love”) that conjures up the timeless ambient pop creations of French duo Air in all its glory.

Tiny Moon’ serves part A’s defining moments with elements of Italo, 80’s synth pop and minimal wave to masterful effect. The luminous ballad – and duet with JFDR – seeps into your veins and very being. The meditative chorus refrain of “light is liquid/ when you are young” serves the record’s fitting prologue, in many ways,as the listener is transported to astral planes of new horizons.

The duo of ‘The Duality Paradox’ and ‘Flesh & Dreams’ offers ‘Light Is Liquid’s pulsing heart. A hypnotic vocoder line flows throughout the electronic pop flow of enchanting soundscapes; belonging to some otherworldly, mysterious android music. ‘Flesh & Dreams’ (featuring Sillus) is an utterly bewitching, precious pop gem, reminiscent of Smárason’s FM Belfast project and the leading lights of the Icelandic community as a whole. An achingly beautiful soulful dimension lies in the foundations of the synth pop lattice. Joyously uplifting.

The epic closer ‘Cthulhu Regio’ chronicles the exploration through the depths of darkness to find the eternal light of hope. The deeply affecting chorus refrain of “There will be light in the end” – which drifts majestically amidst the shimmering darkness of synthesizer oscillations and computerized vocals – enables oneself to find your way once more in this world.

‘Light Is Liquid’ is out on 18th May 2018 via Morr Music ( available to pre-order HERE).

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by Birgisdóttir Ingibjörg

Interview with Örvar Smárason.

 

If ever a title reflects the music captured on it, it is this one; this collection of beautiful electronic pop songs feel like shimmering rays of light: an array of particles that navigate the human heart and mind. Can you please take me back to the album’s inception and indeed the writing process of these songs? I wonder did you approach this record in a new light in the sense that it was to be your debut solo record?

Örvar Smárason: The title actually came before the album, I had been walking around with it for a while. I was originally going to use it for something else, but when I started gathering my ideas for this album I instantly felt that it fitted perfectly. I wrote and produced the album in a few intense bursts I guess, but I honestly can’t even remember anymore. I was working on a  lot of different projects at the same time, so I kind of had to keep this one on the sidelines for a bit.

In terms of the album production, these eight sonic creations float magnificently into your consciousness. The songs are at once timeless and almost belong to some future world, not quite yet arrived upon. I’d love to gain an insight into your processes and methodologies as a producer (and creating these contemporary pop spheres must almost be second nature to you at this point)?

OS: Like with the múm tracks, the process here isn’t very controlled or pre-planned. A lot of it depends on letting myself get into the situation where I can let things happen on their own, if that makes any sense. And after that it’s just about putting the work in.

Can you talk me through your studio set-up and the recording sessions themselves for ‘Light Is Liquid’? You have a stellar cast of close musical collaborators from the Iceland music community. Did you envision all these musical guests and voices would make such a vital part to these sound worlds? 

OS: I was actually in the middle of changing studios while I was making this record, but that’s actually fine with me because I think I work better when my set-up isn’t too rigid or nailed down. I use a a lot of smaller electronic instruments, samplers and synths on this record, so a lot of it was made by just playing around with them. And while making the record I didn’t really think about which singers I was going to collaborate with or if I was even going to have vocals on the album at all. And outside of the vocals and drums on one of the tracks, there aren’t really any collaborations on the album. It’s pretty much only electronic stuff I programmed myself. In fact, I think I have never worked on an album with so little collaboration with other musicians.

The magical centerpiece of the record I feel arrives with the formidable duo of ‘The Duality Paradox’ and ‘Flesh & Dreams’. The warped voice captured on ‘The Duality Paradox’ emits such a soulful, heartfelt and cathartic release; almost belonging to some Utopian world. Can you recount your memories of writing this and indeed how you must see a song such as this gradually form – with each carefully sculpted layer – before your eyes?

OS: The computerized vocals on these two tracks (as well as on ‘Photoelectric’), the ones that sound like a vocoder…. weren’t really planned. To begin with I was just trying to devise a way to write vocal melodies and lyrics in my songs without having to sing them in myself. I have a very difficult relationship with my voice and I have a difficulty listening to it too much, so I was just trying to find a way so I wouldn’t have to. But when I started hearing these songs again and again with these haunting computer vocals, I knew I couldn’t ever have these songs come out without them.

The dreamy female vocals of the irresistible pop gem ‘Flesh & Dreams’ is another defining moment. For the guest vocalists, how much of the songs were known to you prior to their arrival on the album? For instance, did you find that the guests brought their own ideas and helped shape the songs or did you have a certain vision for what you wanted to create?

OS: Sillus and JFDR kind of ended up on the album by chance, which is amazing. I had already pretty much finished all the tracks before we added any vocals on them, but they just added a whole new dimension to them. And then Sóley did some of the backing vocals and it’s amazing to have someone you can trust so well for something as delicate as singing. I’m not sure I would have trusted my own voice there without her backing vocals.

Sin Fang mixed the album. Can you describe in what way did the album change as a result of this mixing stage? Also, in terms of the various takes of songs (and studio sessions in general), do you find yourself continually revisiting songs where you end up with large library of tracks and moments to choose from, so to speak? 

OS: Me and Sindri have been friends and worked together for a long time, so it makes things very effortless and easy. And he really helped me through the difficult phases like the vocals. We were working on out Team Dreams project with Sóley at pretty much the same time so there was definitely a feeling of the projects spilling a bit into each other. But in the end there is not that much similar between the two albums. And mixing the album with him was great. Sindri is very methodical and focused on details in his work and hears stuff my mind doesn’t compute. So Light is Liquid would probably just be a bag of unfinished chaos if it wasn’t for him.

The album closer is another very powerful moment of ‘Light Is Liquid’, illustrating the more ambient and textured dimensions. I’d love for you to recount your memories of writing and composing ‘Cthulhu Regio’? Please shed some light on the song-title and lyrical content of the song. As a listener, it feels that hope and survival have been arrived upon at the end of this musical journey. How do you see the album’s gripping journey resolve itself?

OS: Cthulhu Regio is a dark area on the planet Pluto in a shape that looks something like a whale. It was first identified just a few years ago and having been very much into HP Lovecraft and his mythos as a teenager, the name really spoke to me. But since then they have actually changed the name to Cthulhu Macula. The song in itself is about working your way through some dark areas, but in a detached agnostic kind of a way. If that makes any sense.  It was an accumulation of a few different things I was going through.

As a writer and poet (alongside your musical creations), is there a particular technique to your writing that you feel is almost constant (or relatively similar) across your different bodies of written work? 

OS: Maybe. I think a lot of creative ideas come when I think I am completely switched off, either when I’m out running, cooking food or half-asleep. But actually sculpting something out of these ideas requires very conscious work. That might not be a technique, but it’s a way of living.

Lastly, looking back over the cherished discography of Múm, can you share with me some of your most cherished moments or memories that you feel very strongly?

OS: A few days ago I was thinking about the very first trip we went abroad playing as múm in ’97 or ´98 and we were playing in Cambridge of all places. There were only the two of us in the band back then and we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing. And neither did the promoters of the show, because when we came to the venue we saw they had written „drum & bass” under múm on all the flyers for the concert. We spent the next half hour crossing out all the d’s and b’s and thinking we were pretty funny.

‘Light Is Liquid’ is out on 18th May 2018 via Morr Music (available to pre-order HERE).

https://www.facebook.com/OrvarSmarason/

https://www.facebook.com/morrmusicberlin/

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May 15, 2018 at 7:01 pm

Chosen One: The Sea and Cake

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When you hear something come about like that they’re instantly recognized as potential as a song and it took like a few minutes.”

—Sam Prekop

Words: Mark Carry

sea and cake

This week marks the eagerly awaited new studio album from beloved Chicago indie pop luminaries The Sea and Cake. ‘Any  Day’ showcases a band at the peak of their powers, conjuring up an abstract canvas of bewitching and absorbing song cycles wrapped in sublime beauty and poetic expression.

Following on from 2012’s ‘Runner’ LP, The Sea and Cake continue to explore new sonic terrain with a renewed clarity and rejuvenated spirit. ‘Any  Day’ is the first album recorded as the trio of Sam Prekop, Archer Prewtitt and John McEntire; the result is a wonderful minimalism running throughout the ten compelling sonic creations, with a rich, organic feel emanating from the breathtaking musical landscape.

A charged immediacy is enveloped within the glorious album opener ‘Cover The  Mountain’, conveying a deep, near-telepathic connection between the poly-rhythms of McEntire and intricate guitar interplay between Prekop and Prewitt. Chris Abrahams (of Australian jazz trio The Necks) once said “there’s something balanced about a triangle” and this rings true for the Sea and Cake’s latest sonic venture: a state of equilibrium is forever attained as the dynamism and ripple flow of textures, nuances, timbres, colours ascend beautifully into the pools of your mind.

Prekop sings “I had to follow the moonlight, follow it against the ocean” on the song’s opening verse. Rich poetic prose is masterfully etched – like a painter’s deft touch of hand or a photographer’s innate vision – across the sprawling canvas of rhythmic pulses and gorgeous guitar textures. Equilibrium or furthermore, a kind of liminal state is somehow attained with no trace of effort or conscious thought.

The abstract, non-linear nature of Prekop’s songcraft is one of the great hallmarks of The Sea and Cake’s immaculate songbook – and ‘Any  Day’ conveys the Chicago songwriter’s finest lyrics to date. ‘Cover The Mountain’ invites the listener on a journey: to follow along the waves of the ocean. A heartfelt lament packed with an array of immense beauty at every turn, with Prekop’s moving vocals on the song’s moving rise: “Waiting here with nothing to say” with Prekop’s delicate vocal refrain before pristine synthesizer flickers like stars dotted across a night sky. “Crooked smiles are broken” resonates powerfully amidst the charged electric guitars and thundering polyrhythms of McEntire’s trusted brushwork.

The achingly beautiful melancholic lament ‘Any Day’ – the towering title-track – seeps through your every heart pore with its gorgeously floating spell and early 70’s kaleidoscopic pop splendor. The intricate arrangements is a joy to savor (each and every divine moment, from the captivating woodwind arrangements to the airy melodies and jazz inflections).

Occurs’ displays the masterful inner dialogue that ensues between Prekop and Prewitt’s soaring guitar lines. Prekop yearns to “hold on” on the song’s deeply affecting chorus. The phrasing is sublime, especially on the verses, with the syncopated rhythms forming the gripping foundations. “I’m beginning to trust in getting nowhere” is yet another immaculate turn of phrase. An extended jam – from African sunsets or the Brazilian tropicalia movement – serves the track’s fitting outro.

The rich aesthetic flow is integral to any record, and ‘Any Day’ epitomizes just how feel flows (to coin a Beach Boys creation) throughout. For instance, the soothing guitar instrumental ‘Paper Window’ invites deep reflection of the innermost kind with gorgeous, clean electric guitar tones interwoven with warm percussion. The synth effects and soaring melodies of the pulsating post-rock indie gem ‘Day  Moon’ with its infectious chorus refrain “Seal the night / Not just anyone”.

The tempo is slowed down on the heartfelt acoustic ballad ‘Into  Rain’ with masterful addition of layered organs on the song’s soul stirring rise. Perfect pop songs such as this make you think have you known these songs – at once beautifully familiar and mysteriously unknown – your entire life, like remnants of a faded dream.

These Falling Arms’ is one of the band’s strongest songs thus far (a songbook which spans over two decades and eleven vital albums). Prekop asks to “follow my thoughts” amidst the warmth of floating guitars and gentle beat. It is just how each of the music’s elements is melded together so effortlessly, from the beautiful Americana lead guitar lines to the deeply moving poetic prose of Prekop’s near mystical vision. ‘Any Day’ is another timeless odyssey of meticulously crafted, singular pop songs from one of independent music’s most beloved bands.

‘Any Day’ is out on Friday 11th May via Thrill Jockey Records.

https://www.facebook.com/TheSeaandCake.0

https://www.facebook.com/ThrillJockey/

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Interview with Sam Prekop.

 

Congratulations, Sam, on the latest Sea and Cake album; it’s another incredible release from a very special band. I’d love if you could go back to the making of the record and your memories of the particular recording sessions? It’s interesting how you found yourselves with a new challenge of the core group being a trio during this time?

Sam Prekop: Well, thanks I’m glad you like the record. It was quite a bit different making this record than earlier ones. I mean in a weird way it felt the same and completely different simultaneously. So, the big changes were John McEntire moved to California, which he’s been thinking about doing for quite a while and he finally did it but he did that [laughs] while making this record. We recorded the basic tracks all together in the studio and stuff but after that point I worked solo for a month on the vocals and stuff like that. And we actually mixed it over the internet as well which wasn’t the optimal situation but that’s how it came to be. We were really hoping to be able to get together but with John in California, the logistics didn’t quite work out. We were so late meeting the deadline anyway but I think it came out pretty well.

For the title-track – which was the first taster of the new album – the arrangement is wonderful and how intricate all the components are but it still very much has this minimal framework to it.

SP: Those are my favourite kind of songs. So I spend a lot of time just playing the guitar and coming up with ideas and they become pretty solid and have parts that changes and all this stuff. And for that song ‘Any Day’ Arch and I spent quite a bit of time just playing together and that is one of those songs that sort of happened while we were sitting around playing. When you hear something come about like that they’re instantly recognized as potential as a song and it took like a few minutes. All the work beforehand went into like to make an effortless, instant composition; I wish all of it was like that actually. But anyways the basis of that track is born out of improvising situations like on the side, here’s a handful of chords and rhythms that we like and we just made something out of it. But it’s just one of those that wrote itself and took on from there. And it is quite minimalist really, it’s really only two parts and it depends more on the feel than anything else (than any overriding structure). It felt like the right thing to do. And to have that gliding, floating arrangement keeps it wide open for me to try a bunch of different vocals: not just ballad singing but also nice rhythmic punctuation phrases. When a song like that is so open I’m able to take different tacts on different parts of the song so it’s a nice pay-off for the open type of arrangements.

I love how the album opens with ‘Cover The Mountain’with its immediacy and really feels like that perfect opening line.

SP: That song was probably the complete opposite from ‘Any Day’ in that it went through many iterations quite laboured over. My initial idea I threw out half of the song just because it wasn’t working, it was like two songs put together. So that was a pretty major transformation from an initial impulse. I will say I was quite happy with the vocal hooks and lines that I came up on that one. I think lyric-wise, it’s some of the more pointed, visual lyrics that I was able to conjure up; I like that song as well.

I’d love to gain an insight into your songwriting process and whether the process itself has changed in any way over the years? It’s this beautifully abstract nature of your lyrics and with the phrasing, how it melds with the different parts of the music.

SP: I think my technique and strategy I don’t think has really changed with how I get started going and approach it. But I feel like I’ve gotten more refined with it. It’s very particular and how I write it’s a very personal technique and strategy. I don’t think anyone else would come up with anything remotely like it [laughs]. I don’t know if that’s good or bad but it’s worked for me. I’m not entrusted in narrative songwriting; that’s not my strong point . So I think I figured that out early on so I could find another way of writing interesting songs without having to convey a narrative or typical content. I don’t think the way I arrive on something has changed but it’s become more refined over the years.

I love the placing of the songs and the flow with how each one comes into the next. For instance, the placing of the instrumental ‘Paper Window’ in the middle of the record. You already touched on how some songs are formed without much effort; I can imagine how you and the other members have this really deep chemistry between you that things just naturally occur while you are in the room together.I wonder would you have many conversations in terms of direction and so on, or is it more just to leave the music do the talking?

SP: It’s a combo of both. So that instrumental is another one of those like automatic happened at rehearsal songs. So there’s three on the record: ‘Any Day’, ‘Paper Window’ and the last song as well was also another, ‘These Falling Arms’ was another written in the moment and it just stood out instantly. And it’s really simple and straight forward. Other songs, despite our long history and naturalness with just hanging out and working together, some songs posed different challenges. I would say ‘Occurs’ was definitely a hard one to pull off somehow and I’m not exactly sure why but I think it came out fine in the end. It was a struggle; mainly with the bass stuff and so not having a bass player posed some exciting possibilities but also some difficulties and that was an influence on that song I think. Whereas John was doing most of it but he’s not really a bass player; of course he’s a really fine musician but sometimes you need someone who has years of experience of playing bass to pull it off.

sam-prekop

With regards to your solo work, I love your synthesizer-based music you’ve been creating. I wonder was it a conscious decision you knew from early on that you would step away from adding synthesizer to the album (or a very minimal amount) because there is mainly organic elements to these latest songs?

SP: It was a bit. I mean I recognized that the record was going in that direction so I was following it as it was leaning more that way. I’m still really active and involved with making the synthesizer music with the modular and all that stuff. But I think I just felt like I should focus as much as possible on the singing rather than augmenting or decorating the music with added on stuff so I just felt  that if I could get it strong enough where I didn’t feel like I needed to do that kind of stuff, it would make for a better record. So when I started writing the record it wasn’t neccessarily the case, I just recognized that that was the direction it was taking during the process and I just stayed with that concept basically. Normally, I think if we had mixed it together that’s when we really like to come up with stuff in over-dub situations. So I think had we done that it’s possible that there may have been more organ and synthesizer types of things but since we weren’t able to do that it didn’t quite happen. I don’t feel like it’s missing anything though.

The Sea and Cake typify this, in the way there are so many wonderful off shoot projects and releases from each of the band members (in between the band albums). I wonder do you see things all in the one way or is each one a separate entity that you find is linked to each other?

SP: I guess a little bit. I work a lot on photography and the synthesizer music so I think it’s a case that all the different projects feed off each other and inform the other one and so on. So I feel like if I hadn’t made those solo synthesizer records, the latest Sea and Cake record would be different. I can’t help but believe that would be the case; that everything is a part of a big puzzle and it all adds up. So had I not been making these modular records, with the latest Sea and Cake record I probably would have tried to get [laughs] more of that into it (perhaps, I don’t know). I think it all feeds off each other, enhances and interplays between all of the disciplines.

The music community of Chicago is obviously synonymous with so many great bands and musicians and you’ve been involved in different collaborations with other musicians over the years. I’d love to gain an insight into the nature of the music community in Chicago and how it has thrived so much (and continues to do so)?

SP: I think being in Chicago is really important, more so when I was starting out. The community aspect of it and there were plenty of places to play and to build an audience; enough people to pay attention to what was happening (that was super important I think). I think that’s a benefit of the size of Chicago; it’s a big city and cheaper than New York or LA so that combination makes it a very good music town. But I’m from here so I didn’t come here from somewhere else. And I don’t know if that’s a benefit or not but Chicago is where I’ve always been so I don’t have any outsider looking in perspective. I mean it has worked out for me but I don’t know anything else [laughs]; I don’t know how bad it could be if you lived in St Louis or somewhere. But I will say now that I’ve been doing it for so long I’m less active on the scene than I used to be – not entirely but somewhat – I have two little kids  that I watch all of the time so becoming a father has changed my hanging out at rock bars and stuff like that. And another thing is I feel like I don’t collaborate with a huge variety of people as much as other people. I mean it seems like it but I feel like I’ve got a pretty solid close-knit stable of people I work with over the years. Other people are really good at collaborating on the spot with a wide range cast of characters and that’s never been quite my thing.

Going back to the formation of The Sea and Cake and the early days, looking back on things as a group, would you have had defining records or certain people who you felt were hugely influential and that led to your overall sound?

SP: When I was starting with my first band Shrimp Boat; big stuff from that time was like the Velvet Underground and Tom Waits was an early influence on that music which carried over into the Sea and Cake stuff as well. For The Sea and Cake, I think a big part of it was that I was always interested in a pretty wide variety of music, so I wasn’t exclusively only into rock bands. At that time I think it was somewhat perhaps unusual like I listened to a lot of improvised music, jazz and soul (of course this is completely commonplace now but back in the early 90’s things were more compartmented like if you were a rock band, you listened to other rock bands [laughs] and that’s what you did). So for Shrimp Boat and Sea and Cake that was not the case and we were a rock band basically and we attempted to play jazz or improvized music and we were also influenced by Brazilian stuff and electronic stuff. With the Sea and Cake, Stereolab was a big deal I think for me during that early time, it was quite influential along with a lot of Brazlian stuff (like Caetano Veloso) and even The Velvet Underground and all that kind of stuff. I’d say though in terms of influences it’s never a straight line. I get into some record and it would immediately inform my music, it’s more lke an osmosis process; it warms itself in without me knowing it.

Did you have any important musical discoveries or personal favourites that you always come back to in the past few months or so?

SP: What’s wierd is while I’m working on music I don’t listen to much other music, so the whole year has been quite bankrupt of new music [laughs]. I find that I listen to a lot of techno and electronic stuff (more so than singer-based stuff which people might find unusual). My tastes for listening are much more experiemental and electronica. I guess one recent band – well they are a duo – that I like quite a bit is Visible Cloaks and through them I got interested in a lot of this 80’s fourth world Japanese stuff. It’s not vocal-based, it’s instrumental; I guess ambient (for lack of a better word). But I go back to all kinds of stuff… I really got into that Popol Vuh re-issue from two years ago (on Soul Jazz Records). One thing that I’ve been into though – and I’ve always really liked her but never had been in constant rotation – has been certain Joni Mitchell tracks which I think is more than I’ve recognized before has been quite influential in what I try to do. I think her singing and phrasing is quite amazing; rhythmically along with melodically.

With the new album and the touring it must be exciting, again with a band armed with such a great back catalogue; and the chance to mix new songs with the older ones? Would this be an aspect that you would relish in the sense of how the new songs translate to the live setting and how they combine with the older songs?

SP: Yeah, so that’s what we’ve been working on lately is bringing together the new show. And I’m excited about playing most of the new record I think will be part of the set. So there’s a handful of older songs that we’ve played for years and years and we’re planning on changing that up a bit so that’s exciting to pull out some older songs from the catalogue. One that I’m working on now is ‘Four Corners’ from ‘One Bedroom’ and that’s always been one of my favourite songs from our back catalogue but we’ve never been able to really pull it off live for some reason – I mean I don’t think we tried much, maybe one or two times and I’m excited about getting that one up to speed. So there’ll be some different selections from the back catalogue like we always have to play ‘Jacking the Ball’and stuff from that record; so it’ll be like twenty years of songs I guess [laughs].

‘Any Day’ is out on Friday 11th May via Thrill Jockey Records.

https://www.facebook.com/TheSeaandCake.0

https://www.facebook.com/ThrillJockey/

 

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May 10, 2018 at 1:58 pm

Chosen One: Lucrecia Dalt

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I wanted to explore edges and boundaries in any form; abstract, fictional, material, and by doing so I started to find metaphors I could use from concepts coming from geology like the anticline or the antiform which are ultimately disrupted or distorted hierarchical bodies.”

—Lucrecia Dalt 

Words: Mark Carry

lucrecia

On the striking, near-prophetic album opener ‘Edge’, Colombian-born artist Lucrecia Dalt asks “How long does a body last without organs to fill it?” Dalt’s hushed spoken word passages beautifully float beneath foreboding synthesizer patterns, which conjures up a world that is both alien and uncanny. Lyrically, ‘Edge’ is centered on an ominous Amazonian mythological creature (El Boraro) under the surface of the earth. The breath, shape, pressure and pulse of this utterly transcendent journey of the self encapsulates the utterly hypnotic and visionary sound world masterfully captured in Dalt’s vital sixth studio album ‘Anticlines’ (released on Brooklyn-based imprint RVNG Intl).

Pulsating bass lines interwoven with altering frequencies of ‘Altra’ emit an otherworldly, trance-like state whose origins could be traced from some distant planet shores. Transmissions from unknown horizons. The lead single ‘Tar’ represents one of ‘Anticlines’s defining moments which combines Dalt’s unique rhythmic structures and bewitching avant pop melodies. The intimate vocal phrasing is one of the alluring aspects of the latest record’s far-reaching quality. ‘Tar’ ponders human dependence  on earth at the boundary of the heliopause. The sonic backdrop of the Berlin-based artist’s newly acquired Clavia Nord Modular creates mesmerizing, shape shifting sound worlds that orbit around Dalt’s poetic prose. A futuristic vision steeped in uncertainty somehow flickers into focus as Dalt laments “we touched only as atmospheres touch.”

Anticlines’ marvels upon the electrifying intimacy that permeates throughout the compelling song cycles. The meditative ambient gem ‘Atmospheres Touch’ infiltrates the pores of the human heart with each luminous electronic pulse. Reference points could be the modular synthesizer pioneers like Laurie Spiegel or Suzanne Ciani (or indeed Colleen’s latest synthesizer-based opus ‘A Flame my love, a frequency’).

Dark, menacing tones amass on ‘Errors of Skin’, a foreboding tour-de-force which sees Dalt’s further investigation “to explore edges and boundaries in any form”. Various manipulations of the visionary composer’s vocals further heightens the sheer intensity and uncertainty of what is unfolding before our very eyes. Dalt asks towards the song’s close: “Is it edge? Is it consciousness? Is it matter?”

The placing of instrumental excursions between the lyrical pieces sees the Colombian artist’s innate ability to fuse poetic theory and sound. Enchanting dubstep sounds are dotted across ‘Indifferent Universe’ whilst the gradual bliss of ‘Concentric Nothings’ creates a magical, hypnotic spell as Dalt’s mantra-like lyrics return like that of a faded, half-forgotten dream.

Liminalidad’s contemporary pop sphere feels like a distant companion to Julia Holter’s cherished songbook, with exhilarating choral motifs layered beneath dazzling synthesizer components. Elsewhere, the vocoder-based electronic gem ‘Eclipsed Subject’ permeates the liminal space, floating amidst the point of not knowing. ‘Anticlines’ is an utterly gripping and fascinating sonic exploration into the heart of human existence and the boundaries that lie therein.

‘Anticlines’ is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://lucreciadalt.bandcamp.com/

https://igetrvng.com/

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Interview with Lucrecia Dalt.

Congratulations Lucrecia on the incredible latest full-length ‘Anticlines’. Firstly, please take me back to the music-making process of ‘Anticlines’ and the recording sessions of this new collection of songs?

Lucrecia Dalt: For this album I worked rather differently than my previous ones. I started exploring a new synth, the Clavia Nord Modular. I designed and reworked patches for it, for processing and vocoding. While I was doing that, I was also making a document that I initially called “SUPER-EARTH” full of ideas, keywords, thoughts, pieces of text, images, transcripts from conferences. With that document I met my friend and collaborator Henry Andersen with whom I wrote the lyrics.  After having done that, I started to make the music with the previously made Clavia patches and the Moogerfooger. My first impulses or ideas are usually rhythmical ones, with very basic melodies, and having the lyrics I started to see how to incorporate them. Then, I arranged it all and mixed it.

In terms of the sonic palette utilized on ‘Anticlines’, the Clavia Nord Modular provided the perfect backdrop for these otherworldly, compelling electronic song cycles. Can you discuss this particular modular synthesizer and the new patches you created? What did your set-up consist of, in addition to the Clavia Nord?

LD: The set up now is a clavia Nord modular, my long-standing partner: the moogerfooger murf, an old siemens mic from 1930, computer, a revox tape recorder. There are different sound sources coming from the Clavia, the op-1 and my voice that feedback to other processes in the Clavia, the murf, the computer.  I wanted to work with effective gestures, one gestures is able to generate multiple sounds, rhythm and/or texture.


The poetic prose of the lyric-driven songs creates an utterly beguiling and shape-shifting sonic universe. I feel that your background as a geotechnical engineer has shaped much of this record. For instance, the absorbing lead single ‘Tar’ details human dependence on this planet and opener ‘Edge’ feels like a study of the self. Can you talk me through the writing process for you, and indeed the methodologies you have favoured when it comes to writing songs such as ‘Edge’ and ‘Tar’ (and vocal phrasing as a whole)?

LD: I went to visit Henry in Brussels, we spent a couple of days brainstorming ideas, sharing interests, playing adjective games, analyzing and destroying poems and lyrics by other artists, and then we started writing.

I wanted to explore edges and boundaries in any form; abstract, fictional, material, and by doing so I started to find metaphors I could use from concepts coming from geology like the anticline or the antiform which are ultimately disrupted or distorted hierarchal bodies. The piece “Edge,” explores skin as a possible trespassing medium of inter subjectivity; an obsessed lover wants to possess the view of the loved one, from within. In “Tar,” I was thinking about how far outward does our inner life could reach by bringing ideas directly associated to human existence to a place where they have no significance. Very similar to the rather pointless gesture of bringing the golden records outer space.

The intimacy of these sonic creations is immediately apparent and how intricately interwoven the electronic instrumental odysseys in counterpoint to the avant pop spheres. Can you discuss the sequencing of the record and indeed, the importance of atmosphere in your works? I have always felt this gripping tension and vital pulse of the human condition lies at the heart of some of your incredible records.

LD: Pulses, atmospheres, blurry boundaries were abstract ideas I wanted to explore sonically. Each piece explores something specific depending on what the composition asks for.  For example “Edge,” it started with a basic pulse, then the pulse suggested a confrontative monologue. Or “Atmospheres Touch,” I was trying to haunt the idea of an Italian song composed by someone like Alessandroni by using four vocoders or in “Concentric Nothings” I wanted to work with clusters of words that are sustained in the air that open to meaningful sentences depending on how you encounter them.

Were there certain reference points or particular sources of inspiration when it came to the inception of ‘Anticlines’? As a listener, it feels as if you are continually evolving and delving deeper into new terrain with each new release.

LD: The poetry of Alice Fulton in particular the poem “Shy one” which I discovered because of Karen Barad. I was also reading The thing by Dylan Trigg while making the album and that gave me a lot to think about, but specially lots to relate to as an engineer, or Hito Steyerl essays about the horizon.

Can you recount your earliest musical memories? At what point in your life did you realize the importance of music in your life, Lucrecia?

LD: Always, my mother was a record collector and was hiding speakers around the house, so we could hear music everywhere. I was growing up listening to Spanish ballads, boleros, folk music from Colombia, salsa. I was also very used to listening members of my family sing, play guitar, tiple, maracas.

Do you feel you have a guiding musical philosophy that lies at the heart of all the artistic works you create?

LD: I wouldn’t say so, as I’m very susceptible to changing ideas and positions and allowing for contradiction, I like to think of a bubble in which I throw ideas, possibilities, concepts that probably only make sense while they are inside of it. And I would try to work only with that encased material but bearing in mind that its material is skin-like, with pores, so still interconnected and somewhat open to the outside.

Lastly, what records have you been heavily immersed in of late?

LD: While thinking a moment about this, I just realized my listening habits have fractured since I’ve making my monthly radio show Pli, which is theme-based, so I’m searching, discovering and grouping music in this particular way… two records that I have been very much into lately are Laurent Fairon – Musique Isotype, Don the tiger – Matanzas (not out yet!), Franceso Cavaliere – Xylo-mania.

‘Anticlines’ is out now on RVNG Intl.

https://lucreciadalt.bandcamp.com/

https://igetrvng.com/

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May 4, 2018 at 12:02 pm

Chosen One: Goldmund

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I want to find that midpoint between composition and experimental forms.”

—Keith Kenniff 

Words: Mark Carry

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This month saw the eagerly awaited new Goldmund opus, entitled ‘Occasus’ (released via the ever-dependable Western Vinyl imprint). Keith Kenniff’s sublime piano compositions continue to explore new sonic terrain as the sonic palette of ‘Occasus’ has expanded to contain synthesizer and analog bliss. Just like the Pennsylvanian native’s other musical projects (whether it’s under his Helios guise or as one half of Mint Julep), a timeless beauty is forever embedded inside the gifted composer’s sonic explorations.

The gorgeous album opener ‘Before’ begins with delicate piano tones, before an achingly beautiful swell of violin drones meld effortlessly, forming a captivating sound world. The resulting crescendo of these masterfully sculpted elements feels like a sea of age-old memories coming flooding to the surface. As the title suggests, the fragile piano lament belongs to some other time or place; perhaps adrift in the ether of faded dreams.

The hushed piano notes of ‘Above’ are a joy to savour. The stillness of night. Inner reflections. The repeating piano patterns gradually rise, as a swell of heavenly noise seeps into the slipstream. The lead single ‘Circle’ unfolds a divine modern classical oeuvre of enchanting sounds.

The slow, mournful piano lament ‘Radiant’ is another stunning and raw musical excursion. A hypnotic spell is unfolded before your very ears. The album’s centrepiece is the bewitching ‘Terrarium’ whose wall of analog bliss is interwoven with cinematic piano motifs, creating a striking catharsis with each intense ripple flow of sound. Similarly, the contrast of soaring drone soundscapes and sustained piano chords distilled in ‘Moderate’ unleashes a deeply affecting journey into lost horizons.

The works of Goldmund always captures something pure: it is as if all of life’s fleeting moments are committed to tape and effortlessly translated to sound. ‘Occasus’ is another vital chapter in Kenniff’s long storied career.

‘Occasus’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

https://www.facebook.com/goldmundmusic/

https://soundcloud.com/keithkenniff

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Interview with Keith Kenniff.

 

Congratulations on the latest divine Goldmund opus ‘Occasus’. Can you take me back to the recording sessions of this newest sonic exploration and your primary objectives and concerns with the musical trajectory you wanted to obtain? 

KK: Thank you! I purposely never have a specific thing in mind during recording an album, I feel as though if I think about it too hard I will over-intellectualize things and for me that produces stale output. I try to keep my mind clear of distraction, it’s like a meditation.

Thinking of some of the earlier Goldmund records like ‘Corduroy Road’ or ‘The Malady of Elegance’, your signature hand-print is forever forged in these sublime piano recordings but also feels like new sonic terrain is navigated here. For instance, the incorporation of synthesizers and analog treatments further heightens the listening experience. Can you talk me through these new elements and how you melded these worlds together?

KK: I feel like there are elements of that throughout most of the recordings, but specifically on ‘Sometimes’ (the previous album) and this one, it’s more about sonic texture and less about focusing on the piano itself. I just like things to sound beat-up, found. A lot of music I hear is super-polished these days, auto-tuned and mixed using the “best” gear finely tuned. There’s a place for that but I like when things are just left as-is or mangled sonically in a way that’s quick and intuitive, not planned out with presets and sample packs.

‘Moderate’ is one of the rapturous moments of ‘Occasus’, particularly the heavy drone washes beneath the achingly beautiful piano melody. Can you recount your memories of composing a piece such as this and indeed the layering of the various interwoven components?

KK: I record most of these pieces late at night, after everyone in the house is asleep, there’s this feeling of being exhausted but harnessing the last bit of yourself before bed that can be intriguing. For that one I just laid down a simple violin drone that I pitched down to sound more like a cello or viola, then put a bunch of distortion and hiss on it, and recording the piano chords over it, then putting various synths layered subtly over top. It sounds a bit like a sinking ship, wavering but thoughtful with the low piano chords giving it some harmonic foundation. At the end that ambience breaks through and takes over the piano and those textures are able to expand, but there’s no discernible build, or resolution, it just stops.

Looking back over your compelling Goldmund and Helios releases, how do you find your compositional approach has changed over the years (whether it’s between albums or between the different musical guises)? For instance, would these new fifteen Goldmund compositions have been circulating the ether for a considerable period of time (perhaps sketches or ideas from previous recordings) or would these have originated from new ideas of yours (from the last couple of years)? 

KK: These songs are all from the last couple of years. Typically I don’t let the Goldmund compositions sit too long, they either work or don’t work and if they don’t work I don’t come back to them or I like to take the first idea and just believe in it. Helios material is different, sometimes it takes a week, and sometimes I’ll work on a song for years to get it right. I think I purposely approach the projects differently, help to not get stuck in a rut and they feed each other.

I’d love for you to discuss your earliest musical memories, Keith. How soon did you realize the importance music would have on your own life? At what point did you begin to compose? 

KK: I started playing music at 9 (guitar and drums, I didn’t begin piano until I was about 19) and quickly realized it was not just a hobby but something I’d pursue as a life-goal. I trained as a percussionist, piano just sort of happened but I never studied formally. I started writing my own music when I was about 18. I actually started off as part of this website where people could submit unofficial Bjork remixes. This was pre-social media but it was kind of like a message board-based site where people could upload tracks, rate them, comment on them and share ideas. It was a really healthy atmosphere and I learned a lot about electronic music production that way.

Please describe for me your studio set up and how your piano is set up (and added analog equipment)? 

KK: My setup is simple, a midi keyboard, 3 guitars, upright piano and speakers. The only analog equipment I use is a small mini-cassette recorder I’ve been using on recordings since 2000-ish. I keep it simple so I don’t get distracted, I feel like having a variety of synths and knobs and buttons and “cool” gear would just take me out of creating, not inspire it to happen. I learned how to make music on a computer and it just feels right to keep most of what I do inside of one still.

I love the series of inner dialogue that is inherent in many of the pieces contained on ‘Occassus’; like the multi-layered tapestry that unfolds throughout ‘Bounded’ and ‘What Lasts’ carves out a richly poignant narrative. I get the impression there is a deeply intuitive nature to your exploratory compositions. 

KK: I try not to intellectualize this material too much, I do feel the compulsion to do it and I find the framework of the simplicity of this project compelling to my overall beliefs in aesthetic and outlook but it’s all done very quickly and once something is recorded I don’t go back and fine tune or give thought to what it means.

The gradual ambient bliss of ‘Terrarium’ epitomizes the far-reaching nature of ‘Occasus’s beguiling sound worlds. What do you feel is the precise narrative that ties these piano compositions together? I’d love to gain an insight into the album title and the central album theme that combines these sonic pieces together?

KK: I chose to name the album “Occasus”, which means “End, Ruin, Destruction” etc…as I feel like a lot of these pieces, when I listened to them as a whole, had a need to become unwound. Sounds would enter but then wouldn’t be treated carefully, I felt like they needed to fall apart or not to develop fully or not be polished or purposely recorded haphazardly. I want to find that midpoint between composition and experimental forms, where there’s no discernible beginning/middle/end but that it’s also not just an exercise or purely sonically-based, so I wanted to rail against my inclination toward one or the other and see if there was a new way to treat the piano in context of whatever that halfway point is.

Lastly, what albums have you been enjoying of late?

KK: Otto Totland’s “The Lost”, Novo Line’s “Movements”, Blouse’s self titled album, and “Scenes Surfaces and Threshold” by Cathaya & Grøn.

‘Occasus’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

https://www.facebook.com/goldmundmusic/

https://soundcloud.com/keithkenniff

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April 26, 2018 at 6:49 pm

Chosen One: Mercury Rev

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“… but actually it was one of the lowest; one of the darkest points because when you are at the bottom you can’t even see which way is up; all you feel is this silt beneath your feet and it’s almost like landing on the moon: everything is silent, there is no sound…”

—Jonathan Donahue 

Words: Mark Carry

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On the opening line of ‘Tonite It Shows’, Jonathan Donahue sings “Into a dream, I took a turn and promised to return” beneath slowly plucked guitar strings and an ethereal classical backdrop. Somehow this lyric encapsulates the magical and highly emotive sound world of ‘Deserter’s Songs’ – Mercury Rev’s cherished classic record from precisely twenty years ago – where the listener gets beautifully lost in the tear-stained remnants of faded dreams and a sea of anguish and pain. A cosmic ballad such as this seeps “into your soul” and from this journey into the heart of darkness, shimmering light of hope ultimately floats to the surface. We all have cherished records, ones that come along in your life and unknowingly becomes a part of you – or more specifically, your own self – ‘Deserter’s Songs’ is one of those transcendental artistic works whose significance only heightens with the tides of the moon.

The fragile, near-whisper voice of Jonathan Donahue on  album opener ‘Holes’ immediately casts a hypnotic spell. The orchestral arrangements capture an unfathomable beauty. As Donahue asks “How does that old song go?” on the closing refrain, feelings of doubt and uncertainty comes flooding in. The prayer-like lament ‘Endlessly’ is steeped in child-like wonder: the gorgeous sonic tapestries somehow weave our innermost dreams into formidable shapes and patterns akin to constellations across star-lit skies. ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ remains as a truly anthemic tour-de-force whose striking immediacy forever stops you in your tracks.

The band’s current 20th Anniversary ‘Deserter’s Songs’ tour offers beautiful insight into the making of what at the time they considered the last Mercury Rev record. The fragile “whisper and strum” of these songs during (their recently played) Dolan’s show – led by frontman Donahue and guitarist Grasshopper – unfolded a truly unique experience (just like those eleven tracks captured on tape). The choice of cover songs such as Pavement’s ‘Here’ resonated powerfully, with Malkumus’ lyric of “I was dressed for success/But success it never comes” reflecting the period of time circa ‘See You On The Other Side’ in 1995. Also, their touching rendition of The Flaming Lips cosmic piano ballad ‘Love Yer Brain’ (the band whose early albums of course Donahue played a significant part in) nestled perfectly among the drifting planes of ‘Opus 40’ and ‘Hudson Line’s psychedelic pop sphere.

For remaining dates of the band’s current 20th Anniversary ‘Deserter’s Songs’ European tour (and October U.S. dates) visit HERE.

http://www.mercuryrev.com/

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Interview with Jonathan Donahue.

 

Firstly, I’d love for you to go back to the time of making ‘Deserter’s Songs’, I know it was a dark period in your life but particularly to the writing of these songs?

Jonathan Donahue: It’s hard to unwind one thread of history without unravelling the entire sweater itself. But I suppose the period before ‘Deserter’s Songs’ for the most part it had actually more roots than actually in the album itself, it had its roots much earlier; probably on the album before, ‘See You On The Other Side’, an album that we were really so happy with – myself, Grasshopper and Dave Fridmann. I thought we had a lot of wonderful orchestral ideas and things that weren’t popular at the time and you have to remember back in ‘95 what came in with such a heavy cloud was Britpop and everything went automatically to a three-minute pop song, jangly guitars, boisterous choruses and very little ornamentation. And here we were putting out an album that had flutes, strings, horn sections and very emotive material in it and we were so happy with ‘See You On The Other Side’ when it was released. And then no one bought it. And that wonderful sound that we had imagined and worked so hard for; it just disappeared into the mist right before our eyes and we were left basically in the darkness for three years. And there was no one to blame, it wasn’t the record company’s fault, it wasn’t our fans’ fault or anything, it was just the music itself had gotten lost in the thunder-cloud of Britpop and the idea of a sensationalized music industry where all of a sudden it wasn’t about music; it became about the celebrity of music and we were lost.

We went into the early writings of ‘Deserter’s Songs’, we didn’t think of it as we were writing ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and it’s going to be this masterpiece and all these things are going to finally come together for us, it was actually the opposite: the fact that we were writing thinking very much that it was going to be our last record. We didn’t have a record deal at the time, we didn’t have a manager, and we just didn’t have anything. And so myself and Grasshopper and Dave Fridmann went into it by and large under the idea that this is our last album as Mercury Rev. And that was basically the fundamental tone to the resonating frequencies that would later become the album that we’re talking about.

Like any special album, it’s amazing just how timeless ‘Deserter’s Songs’ is and how out of the place it is but in a beautiful way; it has its own unique world.

JD: I mean for us it does but at the time we weren’t actually thinking timeless to be bluntly honest, we were just thinking that it was the last thing we were ever going to do. And with that, we went into it thinking well if we are so out-of-place with the music and we are so out of fashion that all we can do is what’s really inside of us at this point because there was no chance we were going to be able to compete with the sensationalism of Britpop and the celebrity of musicians that became that din of noise during that period of time. And so we went to the only place that we knew and that was that fairytale-children’s record-golden sound. You can actually hear it on a song like ‘The Funny Bird’ there’s a lyric in there – I’m going through lyrics because we’ll be playing some of these songs again on tour – “Farewell golden sound/No one wants to hear you now” and that was me I guess saying out loud what was going on inside of me – that no one wanted to hear that sound anymore, it seemed that it was just so out of phase. And from that we simply went deeper into a place that was the only safe place that we had, almost like a child: you run and hide into this place that no one can find you for a period of time just to collect what little wits you have about you. For us, that was that fairytale children’s record, what people later would call the Disney sound.

You’re able to combine that so beautifully in the songs themselves. Even just to think of the opening song ‘Holes’ it really leads you in. I wonder if you have strong memories of seeing this song develop from a sketch on guitar or piano and then with all the intricate arrangements that go over it with the gorgeous strings?

JD: That would only come later, when it hit people and when it was released and when they were sent around in physical form to journalists and people at the label and stuff. But at the time when we were done with ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and the recording with it, I don’t think we thought that it was going to be released. We had no reason to – it’s not just a figment of my imagination; I had no reason; if you looked at the track record of ‘See You On The Other Side’, it sold zero and there wasn’t anybody waiting for a Mercury Rev record in 1998. Most people had thought that we had broken up because back then waiting three years to do a record seemed like an eternity and of course now bands take longer the older you get but back then it was an eternity.

We didn’t have a label, we left Columbia, we didn’t have a manager; we just didn’t have anything at all. And still there was nothing attracting or to be in some sort of pose to be ready to listen to a new Mercury Rev record. And some of the very first interviews I remember doing about ‘Deserter’s Songs’ people just couldn’t believe that we were still a band given all the stories that went on during the first parts of our career I suppose and a lot of the sensational things that were written that weren’t true: people thought I was dead, people thought Grasshopper had disappeared off the face of the earth and all of these things had happened. So there was no giant anticipation that some masterpiece was coming – there was no anticipation at all, not even the record company.

There is a funny story to go with that is around the time that ‘Deserter’s Songs’ was finally being done at the mastering stage, we found a label at the time called V2 that would put it out in England and they had a giant label opening party with all the bands that they had signed and the president went up there and everyone was seated around and people were drinking and lounging in champagne and saying this was going to be a great label and he listed off all the bands on the label and he didn’t even mention us, and Grasshopper and I were just sitting there embarrassed. And I thought well, it’s going to come out in some cassette form or something but even the label that we were just signed to – a new small label – they don’t know we’re on the label itself so we thought well that’s it, here we go, it goes right into the lost and unwelcomed albums of the year.

It must have really surprised you, needless to say when you found there was such a reaction to the album over time?

JD: One of the first places was Ireland because it was one of the first places we played and it wasn’t until then that we saw that not only had people heard it but that there was a deep connection to it. And it wasn’t just one or two people saying ‘Hey that’s a great record, congratulations’, Ireland was one of the first countries where we noticed that something different was happening. It’s funny because even the label at the time was so surprised because they had put all this money in all these other bands but I remember when ‘Deserter’s Songs’ finally started kicking in, in terms of journalistic acclaim and the people coming out of the woodwork to buy the album and when it went into the charts, the label was mystified and even the president of the label didn’t even know who we were. We’d be brought into meetings like ‘Hey this is Mercury Rev’ and it would be like ‘Which one is Mercury Rev?’ It was almost like that quote from Pink Floyd – ‘Which one of them is Pink?’ because the label itself were caught so off guard at this band that had this chequered history all of a sudden was being asked for and not these other bands that they had been cultivating in a pop way.

As a listener, I’d love to gain an insight into the songs being written and as you say, you and Grasshopper were together. It must have been a case that you both felt alone and you were just making this music together?

JD: Well even he and I weren’t together for a lot of the time. We were coming off of a very turbulent time after ‘See You On The Other Side’ tours and I was coming off of heroine but it wasn’t the drug itself it was just more the darkness that came: I don’t know where the darkness came from any more than I know where the light came from that would become the lighthouse that would lead us out of it. And it was a very alone time for me: Grasshopper had disappeared completely off of the face of the earth and the other guys and girl in the band (who is Anne from that time of ‘See You On The Other Side’) they had all gone into very deep retreats, some of them couldn’t even function in the band anymore, they had just had enough. And so I didn’t have a master plan like OK I’m bringing in ten or eleven songs; the songs weren’t like that at all; they were just these tiny, half-remembered lyrical phrases or a moment of a chord in almost the way that you would wake up and remember a dream where there isn’t really a time to it, it’s just a feeling you have and I would do what I could to preserve that feeling for as long as I could to get to a piano or a guitar and scribble something down.

Even in the way that the album itself became material out of the immaterial was much more just me describing using emotional phrases and metaphors than it was any concrete musical notion. And I think that’s what people hear – especially on the first side of ‘Deserter’s Songs’ – you’re hearing possibly something like a dream and maybe some of that timeless state was not to do with something conscious, it has to do with something much more unconscious; the way dreams are timeless in that way – the way the fourth astral dimension has to reverse time and space that our own three-dimensional space and time has. So what you hear on the first side especially and what you are describing in ‘Holes’ was very much the way it came to be; it wasn’t a giant sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors.

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That’s precisely the feeling you get Jonathan; you find yourself asking how is this created. The album certainly has this otherworldly dimension to it. The album  feels like one canvas with all these beautifully interludes where it’s like one flow of a feeling nearly?

JD: Yeah and that’s why it’s so hard to describe the process or the writing because it has nothing to do with mentally constructing a record. And sometimes every band has a record or two that is very much constructed: we know what we want to do, we know how we’ll do it and here we go. And there are ones like that where  it was very emotional and unfortunately the emotions at the time were quite melancholy; there was loss and rejection and abandonment and dislocation and none of those are very promising words when you are arriving into a studio. And even at the time we didn’t have money to pay for a studio so much of it was done in my attic with just an eight track Tascam reel to reel and at times we would gather together some money and we would do some recording in a more proper studio but for the most part it’s exactly like the people say, it’s a very late night record and that’s when it was recorded – it was recorded very late at night and I didn’t want to wake up my girlfriend at the time so I wouldn’t put any drums on it, I couldn’t stamp my feet because I would wake her up so I had to do everything very quietly and that’s why there’s very little drums on it (especially the first side).

It’s very fragile this journey the music takes you on. The fact that the music was borne from a very dark time I wonder even as you were playing these songs in the attic did you find that you were improving in any way or feeling better as you were making the music in a way?

JD: I wish I could tell you that there was a healing quality to the writing but there wasn’t at the time – maybe that came later at some point. But at the time you’re not thinking ‘Hey I’m at the bottom of the ocean of despair and a masterpiece is on its way’, all you’re thinking is that I’m on the bottom of the ocean of despair and everything is dark and everything is highly pressurized just like being at the bottom of a real sea: it’s dark and the creatures around you don’t look like shiny dolphins that live on the top surface, they are all these prehistoric looking creatures with very strange and otherworldly features. And that’s what I remember of that period. It gets confusing to fans sometimes because they want to ask you ‘what was it like? It must have been magical? Writing this masterpiece must have been the best time in your life?’ but actually it was one of the lowest; one of the darkest because when you are at the bottom you can’t even see which way is up; all you feel is this silt beneath your feet and it’s almost like landing on the moon: everything is silent, there is no sound, you get the impression of these footsteps that are going [making thudding noise], there is no air around you to make a sound, there is no oxygen to breathe in, everything is internal at that point. Everything is within your own space helmet.

So the environment you are walking around in from day-to-day – and this is the same for anyone who has been through depression certainly – is everything is internal whether you are in a crowd or in a room by yourself; everything is inside you and everything on the outside just sounds like it’s being muffled – underwater or in a space trying to break through a helmet on the moon. I wish I could be more upbeat but that’s what was there at the time. Of course I try to look back on it with a much more upbeat feeling but at the time it wasn’t. Even when the album was done, Dave and I and Grasshopper looked at each other and said ‘Well that’s it’ we might as well put it on cassette because that’s the only way it’s coming out and give it to our friends (on cassette). And even – I think Dave told me this – on the master 2” tapes (the giant multi-track tapes that you record on) it never said Mercury Rev, it said Harmony Rockets which was a side project so we weren’t even calling what would become ‘Deserter’s Songs’ Mercury Rev, it was under the name Harmony Rockets because we thought that it wasn’t going to come out. So all the 2” tapes until they were lost in the flood that I had here in the Catskills seven years ago or so, they all said Harmony Rockets on the master tapes.

Do you remember the times when the members of The Band who were neighbours in the area, when they would join you for some of the recordings (and all the added players)?

JD: Strangely enough when we had asked Levon Helm to play on the song ‘Opus 40’, looking back it was actually – and even for Garth [Hudson] as well – quite dark times for them too here in the Catskills. It was before Levon’s Midnight Rambles took off and so in the mid 90’s when we had asked them to play, strangely enough they were in a very dark space themselves just as we were. I don’t know all the specifics of their lives but I know that in a way there were parallels between what Levon and Garth were going through and with what we were: no one was waiting for a new record from The Band, people thought they were lost in the ether and even they themselves were going through some very dark times individually. So there we both were in the studio recording but neither band nor individuals were at a high point. This was before the Midnight Rambles and before Levon started doing records again and gaining a renewed accolade for not only The Band but Levon Helm himself and so from my own recollection there were a number of wounded animals playing together.

Levon didn’t come in with some great go and walked everybody around – he carried himself just like a man should: very subtlety, very silently. And we were quite at the same temperature as well; fragile like you say, almost like a trout – too much sunlight in the stream, you’re just looking for shade, the slightest flash and you scurry somewhere. In that way there wasn’t any great fanfare; we were over the moon to play with Levon and Garth but even the label had to recall ‘Who is Levon Helm? Who is Garth Hudson? Oh yeah, we kind of remember them, they played Woodstock’. But it wasn’t like some saviours coming in and all of a sudden everyone is saying like ‘Oh my gosh you have some famous musicians, this is going to be fantastic’. At the time we were all on the very strange dark feed that didn’t have a wind to it, we were just floating there, windless. Fortunately years to come, Levon started the Midnight Rambles and things just went in such a great direction for him but at the time it wasn’t like that at all.

mercury-rev

You already mentioned the Disney records and how it was coming from your childhood sounds and records that you grew up with?

JD: Looking back it was us going back – using that crazy little Guns N’ Roses phrase – to the one safe place as a child you would hide. And for us that was children’s records, I didn’t grow up with rock on the tip of my tongue; I grew up in the mountains far away from it. I didn’t grow up thinking that I would be in the Ramones and wanting to reject society and walk around and spit into older people’s faces, I didn’t grow up like that; I grew up in the woods and I grew up with children’s records and Disney on every Sunday night at 7 o’ clock and that was the place we went back to. It’s one of the forms of music that myself and Grasshopper and Dave Fridmann actually all do feel quite close to: we don’t bond over Sex Pistols records or some heavy rock band. We bond with this subtle, silent, fairytale swimming around and I think that’s why we’ve worked so well together in the past is we didn’t have to do a lot of explaining about that sound. And again it would come into vogue later, after ‘Deserter’s Songs’ but at the time it wasn’t in the collective conscience.

It was actually the wrong thing to do; ‘Deserters’ was the commercially wrong record to make at the time, everything was three-and-a-half minutes with jangly rickenbackers and anthemic choruses and big drums. And here we are releasing ‘Opus 40’ as a single and the drums are very slow and very quiet in a way. Fortunately we had ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ on the record which was a much older song that Grasshopper had found that I had long since forgotten about. And we were running out of material to even make a full album and he said ‘Well there is this one I remember we did back in the 80’s as a demo’ and I said ‘I don’t know’ and he pushed for it. And fortunately that was a song that would find its way into some of the waiting hands of pop and radio at that point. Other than that there is nothing on the album that is that way. Commercially it was not the album that even the record company felt they could do anything with. If it wasn’t for the fans buying it, if it wasn’t for the journalists at the time saying ‘Hey give this a listen from a band we all thought was dead’ it never would have made it out of the gates according to the record company (they would have never put anything behind it at all).

Touching on the Disney sound, a song that really so magically comes together is ‘Pick Up If You’re There’, I love the spoken word that comes in towards the end and just how it’s all interwoven together.

JD: It’s another of the dream states with Garth Hudson talking at the end. It’s funny you mention it because probably if I’m honest with myself that song is closest to the way that time was swimming around inside me. I love ‘Holes’ and the other songs very much but if there is one overarching sympathetic drone through the emotional content in me for that album it’s ‘Pick Up If You’re There’ which was really just a phrase that was on an answering machine that I remember leaving for a friend, ‘Hey if you’re there, pick up’ and of course they didn’t but it stuck with me because I think I said it like four or five times on this person’s answering machine. And it seemed to sum up the entire sky from that period of time, it seemed to have all the constellations and of the emotional star twinklings.

On the following album ‘All Is Dream’ did you find this was a happier time and that it was easier for you to create (especially after playing so many well received shows)?

JD: I won’t say ‘All Is Dream’ was a happier place but it was a place of healing in a way. But the time surrounding ‘Deserters’ and before it left such an emotional cavity in me – and for Grasshopper as well – that anything was healing after ‘Deserter’s Songs’ by and large, you know just any amount of light on the band, on our music was healing compared to the bottom of the sea and just the lack of direction in any sense. It’s still with me and at times I wish it wasn’t: I would like to be ‘Oh Deserter’s was the best time of my life’ and like ‘Oh my God I’d love to go back there’ but I wouldn’t. As much as fans would like to hear ‘Holes’ #2 or ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ #14 I wouldn’t go back there willingly. It was dark, devoid of light and sound.

For the shows coming up, you wrote beautifully about your thoughts of these particular shows around Europe and these versions of the songs are how they really began?

JD: In a way it’s almost going to be the attic where they were written. And of course there are differences but in a way it might be a way to find some sense of closure perhaps and maybe to open up to people a bit of the ways the songs really came about. There wasn’t a confidence in the songs and in the song-writing back in ‘96/’97, I can’t pretend or I can’t whitewash it into saying that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I was always sure of it – I wasn’t. So these songs will have a very whisper and strum because that was what it was like at two in the morning in my attic not wanting to wake someone up so I was humming into a little cassette tape recorder and I’m hoping that people will come with open ears towards that element of these songs.

It will be such a special experience because it’s one of those albums that’s such a defining moment in the musical landscape as a whole.

JD: We’re looking forward too, myself and Grasshopper. In a way we get to perform the songs where it’s not in a festival in front of 25,000 people and you don’t have to play through loud amplifiers with the drummer smashing away just to keep people’s attention. We can perform the songs in the way that they first were revealed to us, these were the way they emerged in my consciousness. So I’ll do what I can throughout the evening to let the listener in on the sort of inner dialogue that was going on. And for your own reference, we’re not playing the album front-to-back, what we’re doing is trying to lead the listener along the journey that created the album (not the final album sequence itself). And so there will not only be a lot of ‘Deserter’s Songs’ but there will be a few very special songs that led to some of the ‘Deserters’ period of time or reflected where we were at that time of time because no one lives in a bubble, ‘Deserters’ wasn’t created in some biosphere that was not in contact with anything else.

These Irish shows will be very special indeed.

JD: It’s funny because we’re doing a lot of these shows in Ireland and again it was one of the very first countries that gave us a shot in the arm, it brought us back to life because it was one of the very first places we played where all of a sudden we could see it in people’s eyes – and it wasn’t just journalists or some A&R guy, this was actually fans and we could see it in their eyes. I remember some of the first places we played in Dublin, larger places than we had ever played before, it was the Red Box: you could just feel it and in a way that was more electrifying to us psychologically than any ticket buyer at the time had an inkling.

For remaining dates of the band’s current 20th Anniversary ‘Deserter’s Songs’ European tour (and October U.S. dates) visit HERE.

http://www.mercuryrev.com/

Written by admin

April 23, 2018 at 7:56 pm

Chosen One: Paul de Jong

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I have to somehow be able to put the door ajar for the listener to step into that world and if it’s impenetrable that would never happen.”

—Paul de Jong 

Words: Mark Carry

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This week marks the eagerly awaited release of Dutch composer – and co-founder of the beloved collage pop duo The Books – Paul de Jong’s sophomore solo full-length “You Fucken Sucker” (via U.S. independent label Temporary Residence). As ever, a myriad of ideas, inventive pop structures, electronic instrumental excursions, and poetic prose are masterfully etched across a sprawling canvas of genre-bending sounds.

A mantra of “almost doomed” is repeated beneath a meditative acoustic guitar line on the short interlude of ‘Almost Doomed’, reflecting the darkness that envelops the sound world of the Dutch artist’s latest solo work. The deeply personal songs envelop the rawest of emotions. The soft guitar tapestries fade into ‘Doomed’, with echoes of guitar noise and a garage drumbeat before a hypnotic guitar line ascends beneath a poignant vocal refrain: “I can do anything I want/It’s up to me”. The song develops into frenzied rhythms amidst a fury of rage, highlighting the entire spectrum of moods that engulfs the music’s headspace. These songs become more like coping mechanisms – the source of survival and hope – as the outro of gospel-like voices rejoice “you can be anything you want to be”.

The album’s title-track reveals the frustration inherent throughout the record’s striking narrative. A nursery rhyme turned inside out, sung beneath soft electronic beats and angelic guitar notes. The gorgeous electronic instrumental voyage of ‘Wavehoven’ exudes a soothing, healing force as the ambient swells drift into the ether. It is as if the light of hope is shone on the depths of despair throughout these unfolding electronic passages.

The frantic screams that ascend on album opener ‘Embowelment’ reflects the anger and confusion that permeates within “You Fucken Sucker”s rich tapestry. More lyric-based songs are masterfully created: the soul-stirring americana lament ‘Johnny No Cash’ sings of lonesome blues and the empowering psychedelic pop sphere of ‘Dimples’ is yet another crowning jewel. “I think that all you have to do is do whatever you can do” is spoken beneath a haze of psych pop harmonies and jazz piano inflections.

One of the album’s lead singles ‘It’s Only About Sex’ shares vintage Books-esque pop collage spheres as gorgeous pop motifs, electronica and celestial harmonies blend with divine spoken word passages. Timeless pop music for the 21st century. “You Fucken Sucker” is the latest master work from the peerless Dutch composer.

‘You Fucken Sucker’ is out on Friday 6th April 2018 via Temporary Residence.

https://pauldejong.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/temporaryresidence/

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Interview with Paul de Jong.

Congratulations on your new solo full length. I’d love for you to take me back to the making of ‘You Fucken Sucker’? One aspect I found very interesting is how the tracklist itself is laid out as it was conceived; I wonder was there a starting point that sewed the seeds for the album and its ultimate creation? In terms of assembling the tracks, you always have this magical ability to combine the various found sounds, instrumentation and the voices you hear throughout the album.

Paul de Jong:  It’s mostly true that the record is presented in the order that the tracks were conceived. The final track [‘Breaking Up’] I put together from takes that I actually recorded for the opening track [‘Embowelment’]. It didn’t become the capstone of the record until indeed the last moment where it is almost the uncut take which I decided to use in its entirety, adding two instrumental parts which are absolutely unrelated to each other or to the original vocal take. Although the instrumental takes are also two raw takes that I did for the first song on the record, I just used a few elements from those recordings. Other than that really the record pretty much came together in the sequence you’re hearing. There is no artistic concept behind that particular decision: I presented the tracks as such to my record label and gave as usual the director of my record label Jeremy deVine full liberty to put an effective sequence together (with his experience as someone who is putting out records). We traded several sequences back and forth and it really turned out that the original sequence was the only one that made much sense, a somewhat rocky but plausible emotional trip.

In retrospect it all makes sense to me since the record came together while I was dealing with several unforeseeable circumstances in my life somewhat radically interfering with an otherwise very steady musical productivity. These were things that could happen to any human being at any time throughout their lives. We bought a house and in the second week that we had it, I was sound proofing my studio, fell off a ladder and I broke my heel which was a long and painful recovery from  extensive surgery to my foot, so I was in bed for three months. And then as soon as I was more or less back on my feet, my wife fell ill with lymphoma for the second time in eight years, which made my fracture look like a mosquito bite in comparison. During this period, my mother fell ill across the Atlantic and it was very frustrating and aggravating not to be able to go and care for  her (luckily I have a dear brother and a sister who could, and did). All this made my daily existence and all the practicalities of life – we have three young children – rather complicated yet my composing (when I broke my heel I was almost halfway through this record) proved to be the thing that kept my course steady. It was a refuge and an intellectual and emotional anchor that proved to be very valuable to me in unexpected ways. The individual tracks on the record were influenced by these circumstances in that I often only had time to spend working in the studio in a fragmented schedule, five minutes here, an hour there, odd times of day, lots of hiatus in between and so forth. I constantly had to adjust my approaches, goals and methods of composing and recording of individual tracks according to that schedule. I learned to adapt in beneficial ways, conceptualizing the compositional structures and manual work to far greater detail that I used to before I found the time to sit down and actually execute the piece. Not really that much time for sketching, improvising or ‘stream of consciousness’ composing, although I managed to still build in plenty of opportunity for unrestricted exploration within the framework of developed form and method. In retrospect it seems like a marvelous mental exercise borne out of necessity.

It’s funny to realize that the style of the Books and even where I found myself starting out in my post-Books solo work seems already quite vintage; it’s an approach to collage music that we developed in the early 2000’s which seems somewhat of a historic practice by now. Actually, putting it in that perspective I doubt if there was much of anything new to it at all… maybe it just happened to successfully connect with a fresh generation of listeners. So as always feel the need to surge forward and chart new territory which generally seems to happen through a combination of slow crystallization of development in style and ideas combined with radical changes that come after the realization that you can’t repeat yourself. And this is all guided by intuition which is quite an important ingredient in composing: you don’t know where you’re going to end up but you’ve got to trust what you can’t always intellectualize. I find it hard to explain how a new piece gets started. It has to do with a vague emotional response which I sense should be what the effect of the yet unwritten music should generate. I will try to identify that response by running sonic experiments, electronic and instrumental, until some sound, some element no matter how seemingly insignificant relates to that feeling. It’s as if I try to identify where this universal background noise comes from by sending out signals and waiting for a positive response. How’s that for vague. And then every piece from there follows its own path of development: it writes its own laws, there is no overarching concept to it like a method of composing, it charts its own universe so to speak. I’m unconcerned with looking for a particular signature or a style – that’s not for me to identify in the first place. Sometimes a piece will start sounding like an established genre, and then I am humoured by it because it’s mostly unintentional, like inventing country & western by complete chance… on the moon.  As long as I’ve created it I’m sure that I am in there somewhere, no style necessary.

I started out as a cellist and more of a writer, a poet. These were the things I was already dedicated to before my tenth year. So, as a creative artist I started out rather in composing language than in music. As I moved to the United States in ‘91 or ‘92, I still mostly wrote in Dutch (I never really wrote in English until I moved to the US) but I lost my touch with writing poetry because I was no longer surrounded by Dutch language day in day out . Music composing started to substitute for poetry and writing in English actually came about because I started my recorded sample library in earnest when I moved to the United States. I was attending the University of Illinois back then as a cellist and I had access to this wonderful bottomless library and I started recording all these spoken word LP’s and editing and  recombining whatever attractive words and phrases I found and creating poetry out of those elements. And this is really how I came to writing lyrics and writing in English, through this circumstantial method. This wasn’t at all a preconceived idea of how to go about something, I just found a plausible way to have an outlet for that literary desire.

Until my twenty-fifth year I was primarily a writer involved in theatre, I wrote poetry, I wrote plays and I can’t say I was very good at it, I mean there are only very few things that I wish to keep from that period. But language was in my creative life much more central than composing music. I frankly didn’t have really much of a clue about composing music until much later in my life.
Ever since my twenties I have been attempting to master a meaningful and effective way to reconcile cello playing, music composing, language, movement, film, theatre…: all those things always had my deep interest rooted in my a cultural and intellectual wealthy upbringing, but they existed as mostly separate entities in my life at first. My cello playing was very much classical and contemporary classical with some free improvisation thrown in but it didn’t really have all that much to do with my formal composing attempts and sampling attempts. Those things really started coming together right around the time that I met Nick Zammuto and we started the Books. Video entered the mix when we started translating our albums to the stage. I think, or at least I hope my latest album pulls in my theatrical background and my social interests in an effective way…

The rawness in the album is really quite hard-hitting and particularly the elements of the female voice and the screams that you hear throughout the record. Did you find these vocal segments as a trigger to compose the rest of the pieces because the album centers very much on these particular moments?

PdJ: Those voices are not found sound. In this album I really sourced some old roots in my life, and I made use of my theatrical past in writing for and directing others. And that is really how these tracks that you’re talking about came about: I wrote – well I can’t say lyrics, I call them really texts because there are also lyrics in the record which are more song poetry as one might expect them; what I’m talking about are texts that have a theatrical quality, written to be not musically interpreted but re-enacted, to be lived. So what I would do is I wrote these fragments or texts, often derived from transcribed recorded samples and I’m very lucky to have a pool of young people who are very multi-talented around me, who can sing and act and they can play music. I would from time to time ask them to come over and run texts by them in the studio and not so much give them musical directions but give them acting directions. It’s a way of creating sample material in a much more controlled environment. It’s almost like creating a libretto, but it would make a miserable operetta. Well maybe it did.

There is this theatrical world  your music seems to be steeped in. In one way, you never know what’s going to happen next.

PdJ: But at the same time, I surely would hope that it doesn’t only give you a feeling of unsettlement but also there is something reassuring in exactly that: that you can live your life expecting the unexpected without fear.

I love how some of these short tracks (like for example ‘Doings’) so much happens in a short moment and for instance how ‘Doings’ fades into ‘Dimples’ with the piano, there is always this flow to the music and a narrative that ties everything together?

PdJ: Well that worked out well for me then [laughs]. That of course is exactly what I hope: no matter what the effort or struggle that goes into it, the work should be able to, for the listener, to give an impression of effortlessness which is of course about the only thing that can open the door for the listener. I have to somehow be able to put the door ajar for the listener to step into that world and if it’s impenetrable that would never happen.

Looking back over The Books – who are truly one of those most cherished bands – and the band’s discography, you must have a real sense of pride of these artistic works but also the solo works that you’ve both been undertaking since then? I suppose you must feel that the Books material and your solo works are all inter-connected in some way?

PdJ: Most certainly, I could not ever have made these solo albums without the experiences that I’ve had with Nick in creating our albums together. I think we were both lucky and privileged to have met and to have created all this music for such a long time and find an appreciative audience. I think that we created a substantial catalog, and I’m definitely proud of it. And I feel also very confident in my solo work because I do have that behind me and it’s not like I’m composing into an unknown world, I know there are listeners out there who have grown with me in this context of all this other music which makes me feel reassured to say the least. However, I still honestly feel that I have to earn my stripes with every artistic decision I take, no matter how tiny. Keeps me sharp.

How do you set about trying to translate an album like ‘You Fucken Sucker’ into the live setting as a performance?

PdJ: It’s pretty challenging. There are a good few pieces that I can’t really quite wrap my brain around yet how to translate them onstage. I’m at a point where I’m starting to bring in much more improvised elements into my shows to widen and maybe break a little the concept of  how I used to perform with the Books for years and also how I performed ‘If’ for a good while. Nick and I used to joke we were really doing glorified karaoke. I’d  strip the songs off whatever I could perform live onstage and whatever was left remained pre-recorded and the whole thing was accompanied by a synchronized video. The instrumentation in my solo work becomes a little bit more complex and especially since I work more with vocalists now. I am playing mostly solo but I will also have one of my vocalists Jennifer Cavanaugh guesting wherever I can.  The more traditional song forms (‘Dimples’, ‘Johnny No Cash’ and the title track of the album) can actually be performed with either solo keyboard or  bass guitar accompanying and also I’m learning to perform those all by myself. Terrifying, but I think it really can gain enormously in impact onstage to treat them as just simple performable songs, not the more lavish electronic studio pieces which they really were in the first place. Then there are the more ambient electronic tracks that are purely instrumental which  treat in a much more loose and broad way: I’m taking elements from different tracks, create ambient moods by mixing them up and play them along live instrumental improvisations. So I will be playing my cello with samplers and there will be more improvised pieces in the show that will be interspersed with quite meticulously executed songs from either of my two records. Something that I have always been dealing with is the question of how to represent a studio piece without its original sonic environment ans find a musical way that is as effective and relevant in a concert setting, which circumstances are much more uncontrollable. Back to the uncontrollable circumstances. Story of my life.

 

‘You Fucken Sucker’ is out on Friday 6th April 2018 via Temporary Residence.

https://pauldejong.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/temporaryresidence/

 

 

Written by admin

April 5, 2018 at 2:49 pm

Chosen One: Balmorhea

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We make the music that comes to us based on the unique and pooled amalgam of memories, experiences, dreams, lands and people that surround us.”

—Michael Muller

Words: Mark Carry

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Last year’s gorgeous ‘Clear Language’ full length marked the eagerly awaited return of the beloved instrumental/post-classical Texas duo Balmorhea. As a follow-up to 2012’s ‘Stranger’, the gifted duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have carved out a richly poignant set of stunningly beautiful compositions: spacious, exquisite and immaculate sonic explorations for the heart and mind.

As the title suggests, ‘Clear  Language’s musical landscape is built upon simplicity and returning to one’s roots (bringing it all back home, if you will). It is precisely the crystalline immediacy of these ten otherworldly odysseys that forever reveal more insights and unraveling truths from deep within. Co-produced and engineered by David Boyle in Austin’s Church House Studios, the instrumentation consists of analog synthesizers, piano, vibraphone, electric and bass guitar, violin, viola, field recordings and –for the first time – trumpet (played by Tedeschi Trucks’ Ephraim Owens).

The ethereal trumpet lines on ‘Slow  Stone’ creates a jazz infused neo-classical exploration (as the gradual piano ripples forges a Necks-esque dreamscape). The joyously uplifting Americana lament ‘Sky Could  Undress’ (later reworked by ambient luminaries Christina Vantzou and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma on this year’s ‘Clear Language: Reworked’) with the highly emotive strings serving one of the record’s pinnacles. The infectious guitar groove could have originated from a jam in Woodstock’s Big Pink house from another time and place.

If ever a piece embodies the soulful, immersive nature of the duo’s shape shifting works it is the glorious album-title – and opening track – with empowering piano lines and crescendo of soul-stirring strings, unfolding a pavilion of dreams.

‘Clear Language’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

For Balmorhea’s European and U.S. tour dates, visit HERE

https://balmorheamusic.com/

http://westernvinyl.com/

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Interview with Michael Muller (Balmorhea).

 

Please take me back to Clear Language’s inception; what were the concerns and primary aims you both shared for this latest record? I just love how – at once – there is a warmth of familiarity and shimmering depths of the unknown also. I can imagine the process of creating this latest record must have felt like a liberating experience, and one you may have felt you were starting afresh (considering the gap from the previous LP)?

Michael Muller: The beginning processes of Clear Language started in the spring of 2016. We would meet everyday in our studio and experiment on a single idea, each day. Sometimes it was based on a loop, a sample or just a few loose chords. Over the span of a couple months we whittled down many ideas into about 12 “songs” that we recorded as demos. We didn’t have any touring during this process, nor in the forecast until after this album would eventually release, so we took our good time in the recording and mixing process. This happened in October and November of 2016 at Church House Studios in Austin, Texas with co-producer and engineer David Boyle. We didn’t rule out any idea or instrument choice until it was clearly not right for whatever track we were working on. We were assisted on all the string parts throughout the record by our amazing and long-time companion and collaborator Aisha Burns. Overall, our goal at this point in our sonic trajectory, was to take a step back, complexity-wise, and focus on space, breath and to lasso the best tones we could. Contrasting to our earlier releases, where a precise narrative was drawn from, between night sky, vast seas or the expansive nature of western America, Clear Language seemed to require a more solemn and inner peering; one that loosely harnessed perhaps the liquidity of a dream-like state or of vague memories half-forgotten. It was really enjoyable throughout the making of the record to not be shuffled along too hurriedly by the constraints of time. We are really please with how it all ended up.

I’d love to gain an insight into the studio set-up and this deep connection between you as a duo? This collaborative partnership must be built on such a powerful force of intuition and the resulting sound worlds captured on Clear Language emit such sublime beauty and timeless radiance. I get the impression that some of these compositions feel almost like happy accidents, so to speak?

MM: Happy accidents is a fitting way to phrase it. Several of the tracks on the record literally sort of appeared, really. Rob would sit at the Rhodes or I at a guitar and the tones and melody would slowly spill out. We usually realized something great was occurring so we were sure to always have the mics on and recording while we wrote and recorded the demos. The more fully-realized songs were usually stemmed from a specific loop or progression that was added to and then eventually subtracted from until the right balance presented itself. There were, though, certain instruments and techniques that we knew we were interested in trying, as well. The track ‘Ecco’, for instance, employs a Rhodes organ going through a series of fuzz pedals and a Space Echo tape delay. This recipe coupled nicely, we thought, with the more crystalline guitar tones and skeletal piano pieces bordering the rest of the album. In other pieces, like ‘All Flowers’, we experimented with recording guitar into a cassette deck and re-amping through a PA.

The title-track and gorgeous album opener feels like a gateway into the rest of the record. Can you talk me through the construction and layering of this uplifting piece? The title too conveys the clarity and directness of the music captured on this latest batch of songs.

MM: The title track, in our minds, was meant to serve as an intro, of sorts, to the record; a palette-cleanser, if you will. This track began with the opening piano line and was lightly built-upon from there. It’s restrained in a way, as it never fully gets too demonstrative or bombastic as it hints at grandiosity that may be forthcoming that never perhaps fully arrives. The track and record title, Clear Language, seemed the only logical choice. It’s instrumental music that is there to score whatever reality each listener applies it to.

The shimmering ambient odyssey ‘Slow Stone’ forms the vital core to the record’s first half. As ever, this sense of a journey unfolds before your very ears. The added trumpet instrumentation (which I believe is a first for Balmorhea, on record at least?) further heightens the textured sound world that breathes deeply throughout. For a piece like this, would the piano melody have provided you the starting point for all else to form?

MM: ‘Slow Stone’ was a track that in the writing process was truly developed out of nothing. The intro is a sample we recorded of the Australian avant-minimalist composer Lawrence English walking through tall grass in cowboy boots during a field recording workshop he gave in Austin. The tandem of the track is a pure collaboration between the guitars and undulating over a soft bed of Rhodes organ. After that initial bedrock was laid we knew another and a different voice needed to pull it all together. We agreed it couldn’t be a string part, which we didn’t want to overplay and we both liked the idea of brass. In the end, the thing we all wanted to hear was a muffled trumpet. We called Ephraim Owens, a local Austin jazz trumpeter and touring member of Tedeschi Trucks, to step in and add his magic. I think he only took three, short takes before nailing it after only hearing the song a few times in the control room. The track eventually flows out into a delta and ends with an interplay between the sparse piano and hazy waves of a fuzzed-out guitar. If you listen closely at the crescendo, you’ll hear a subtle sputtering under the surface. This is a blast beat from our friend and Belgian black metal drummer Wim Coppers.

Balmorhea’s pop sensibility is a trait that remains at the heart of the band’s special records. Needless to say, the lyrical quality of these instrumentals is quite staggering. For instance, ‘Behind The World’ orbits the avant pop sphere with the irresistible bass groove and crystallized guitar/piano patterns. What do you feel may be the defining records for you that you find inspirational for the musical path you find yourselves on? 

MM: During the creation of Clear Language it was a wild smattering of records from all over the musical map. Rob was listening to a lot of jazz, classical and world music whereas I was listening to a see-saw of minimal, avant and ambient music. One record that was on heavy rotation during the process was Daniel Lanois’ ‘Belladonna’ (2006, Anti). This record marries a strange blend of ambient americana throughout its reverberous pedal steel guitar next to deep synth and avant-jazz drumming. It really opens a total unique, sonic world unto itself. Highly recommended if you haven’t heard.

It must be a thrill to translate ‘Clear Language’ to the live setting when touring? As a larger ensemble onstage, do the songs further change or mutate as they are emitted into the atmosphere each night, in different places, different time zones, different moments?

MM: The songs of Clear Language were written and largely recored as a duo but the live iteration is a full, 6-piece ensemble. Every player has a role for each song, which rotates based on the arrangement. It was a fun but long process to comb through these songs and arrange them for the live stage. The songs are mostly compatible with the original instrumentation and played live, save the programmed beats on ‘Sky Could Undress’ and ‘Behind the World’, respectfully. It’s really enjoyable to play live and our current set has over 1/2 of the new album mixed throughout.

‘First Light’ is that perfect meditative closing gem. A haven of celestial sounds unfold. Can you recount your memories of writing, composing and arranging this song? The added vocals makes for such a vital moment. Do you find the arranging and blending of the various instrumentation a challenge? Or this sense of keeping restraint in the music and having the minimal framework as your guide? Is there a musical philosophy that you feel has guided you through your songbook thus far?

MM: ‘First Light’ was actually the first song we wrote in the demoing process. But in the end, it fit most squarely as the album’s closer. We titled it ‘First Light’ as a way to invoke or invite a return or a cycle, of sorts. The record as a whole (to us, anyway) seems to slide from one track to the next and can play in some way as a singular, weaving journey. There isn’t a specific doctrine or credo we are adhering to, really. And we’ve never set out to specifically not have lyrics. On some tracks we’ll sort of agree that a different voice is needed. Sometimes it ends up that a human voice being used as an instrument rather than communicating a direct language is the most apt choice. We make the music that comes to us based on the unique and pooled amalgam of memories, experiences, dreams, lands and people that surround us. We are so lucky to make music; to record it and to play it around the world. It means everything that people spend time listening to it and even more-so if they are moved in some way by it. It’s a dream come true.

‘Clear Language’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

For Balmorhea’s European and U.S. tour dates, visit HERE

https://balmorheamusic.com/

http://westernvinyl.com/

Written by admin

March 27, 2018 at 6:20 pm