Happy New Years everyone!
We know what you're thinking: what happened to the Globecat? Well, the big holiday rush wound up hitting everyone, including your staff here at GC, but, truth be told, there's been a project that we've been working on for close to a year now, and, with great pride, we are happy to be unveiling it to you right now.
It's called Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle, and its genesis has been long and totally crazy. In short, this was a project spearheaded by Evcat to give tribute to the guy who got him into songwriting/recording in the first place. Ben is a fantastic songwriter (after all, remember the track he did for Globecat's One Year Anniversary?), but he doesn't really "publicize" his songs that much. So, as such, many people were called on to record their own versions of some of Durdle's unheard-of classics, many of whom are GC alumni.
Who, you might ask? Why, there's the incredible Will Stratton, the super-fun Hoot Hoots, our friend Motorcycles Are Everywhere, and the fantastic group The Marches, along with Davecat contributing a song as well! The whole album has been a labor of love from all the artists involved, and given all the hurdles that had to be overcome to get this album released, we are pleased as punch to finally have this see the light of day.
So please, visit http://www.goodwithwordsalbum.com and download the disc (for free!), give it a listen, and blog about it/share it with your friends and family. This is one of the greatest things that GC has ever been involved in, and -- as you can see -- it was very much worth the wait :-)
Exciting interviews coming soon -- thanks for sticking around!
--The GC Staff
In short, Motorcylces Are Everywhere are now, literally, everywhere.
Sound designer Matt O'Hare had made a living working the East Coast circut as a man with an ear for the obtuse, able to make a small living as a theatrical sound designer by making each show he did a work of art in and of itself, writing rock songs for shows that called for them and atmospheric landscapes for entirely different productions without as much as batting an eye. As he worked to make a living in New York City doing what he love, things, eventually, turned towards his own music.
Motorcycles Are Everywhere -- the pseudoynm under which O'Hare has been recording -- just barely released their debut album 1983, an electro-rock stunner that melds waves of noise to remarkably considered song structures, resulting in a wholly visceral listening experience. Though you can hear elements of bands like Radiohead and Depeche Mode floating throughout the mix, MAE has emerged with a unique sound that couldn't be more appropriate for our era: fiery yet cohesive, chaotic yet digestable, poppy but with a sense of longing undercutting the whole experience. Yet there is one descriptor that sets MAE apart from his peers during these troubled times: his music is 100% free.
Sitting down with Evcat, O'Hare is more than willing to talk about how his album was largely made possible by the economic downturn, how wildly experimental his recording process has been, and how NYC can very much be a make-or-break arena for just about anyone in any field -- and how those very people very much populate the lyrical landscape of 1983 ...
>>It's been noted that back in 2006, while you were still focused on sound designing, you once said that you couldn't write songs for yourself -- only for pre-written material. Then, after the February 2009 production of The Maids you worked on for Trinity Rep/Brown, things changed. What happened, and what ultimately lead to the creation of Motorcycles Are Everywhere?
I've been writing music since I received a Casio keyboard as a gift when I was ten or so. It was pretty clear from the beginning that the concept of learning an instrument simply to play preexisting songs was foreign to me. Perhaps not surprisingly, I was more interested in unusual sounds than I was in developing performance technique. I'm still not a very accomplished musician when it comes to playing the guitar (which I switched over to in junior high to meet girls).
Then came the high school punk band. We wrote our own songs, but the hardest part was writing the lyrics. I don't think I wrote one stanza in high school that didn't make me cringe, so that always slowed the songwriting process way down for me. I had mountains of riffs and half-finished tunes, but I had no idea how to write words for them. Amidst the mid-nineties slump of post-grunge, I thought that all lyrics had to be self-referential and be about personal suffering in order to be interesting. And I was incapable of doing that in an honest way. I was just a suburban teenager with a pretty normal life, afterall.
Meanwhile, I was also acting in plays. It wasn't until college that my two interests came together, and I started writing music for shows that I was in. That was revelatory. Suddenly all the source material was right in front of me: the story, the setting, the characters, the director's vision. These elements gave me everything I needed to generate material; both music and lyrics. After that door was opened, I was much more prolific. However, my writing became exclusively focused on theater and intertwined with other people's ideas. Not such a bad thing, and it certainly has a lot of influence over how I approach music now. It stretched me to places I wouldn't have gone on my own accord; trying to write in a Renaissance style or taking a stab at jazz, for example. But until recently, it looked like I had abandoned the idea of writing music solely from my own imagination.
What happened last year was that I started to no longer feel creatively liberated by theater. I had accumulated a lot of various technical skills and new ways to generate music and sound, and yet I felt like I wasn't using them to their fullest potential. There's only so much music and sound you can cram into a play before the story gets upstaged by it. However, there became an irrepressable urge to make music the total focus again. It was then that I decided to start MAE.
>>There appears to be a particularly bitter lyrical streak running through on this album, particularly with tracks like "The Photographer", which are self-depricating and venemous in equal measure. In what place did you write a majority of these songs? Would you say that this album has an overarching "theme" at all? Given how the album's title refers to the year of your birth, to what degree is this disc autobiographical?
1983 was written almost exclusively in New York City. I was still struggling to keep myself afloat as a freelance sound designer amidst the aftermath of the financial crisis. When I left New York in May, jobs were still pretty few and far between. At that point, I was no longer living in the city fulltime, but renting a guest room from friends in Brooklyn when I had enough jobs booked to afford it. When I didn't have any work, I would go back to my parents' place in rural Vermont and record music until the next gig came along. It could be said that if it wasn't for the recession, I wouldn't have had the time to make 1983.
Living in New York exposed me directly to a lot of aspects to our culture that I was only peripherally aware of beforehand. It's the city where people come to test themselves against the best in the world, whether they're an artist or an investment banker. For me, the whole emotional climate of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn is defined by a perpetual sense of competition and self-consciousness. This energy manifests itself in a lot of ways. For instance, you have people willing to let themselves be exploited for the false promise of fame, recognition, wealth, etc. Hardly something new, but it seemed like it was everywhere I looked. In the entertainment world, people are constantly working for free because of the thin hope that it may lead to something else. I've done it many times. On the other side of the equation, you have the people who recognize this dynamic and take advantage of it. It could be something enormous, like promising impossible returns on a $2 million investment in the case of Bernie Madoff, or it could be something as small as appearing in a risque photograph for an American Apparel advert with the promise that it will advance your modeling career. It's this idea of ambition as a form of currency: I promise to help you achieve your aspirations in exchange for your money, your body, whatever. Unfortunately, I think the exchange is often extremely one-sided. The promised rewards seldom seem to arrive. Throughout the songs of 1983, you encounter people stuck somewhere along the spectrum of the used and the users.
Somewhere along the way George Orwell's novel 1984 became a central reference point for me in the writing process. In particular, I was very interested in the role that technology plays in maintaining the dynamic of power that Orwell describes. I was amazed at how relevant it continues to be -- perhaps now more than ever. I speak only for myself, but living in New York makes it easy to imagine a world where we will no longer have a private moment to ourselves. However, the funny (and perhaps sad) part is that there is no Big Brother forcing this perpetual surveillance upon us, we are willingly giving up more and more of our private lives for the promise of... social networking? Entertainment? The chance at becoming famous? I wish I knew. My take on Orwell's theory is that if your behavior is largely influenced by outside forces, whether it be an omnipresent authority or the social pressure to check for Twitter updates every five minutes, your mind no longer belongs to you but to those outside forces. You no longer possess yourself because you spend all day perpetually reacting to outside impulses.
With all of this in mind, the songs of 1983 aren't really about me directly. When writing, I thought of each song as a monologue delivered by its respective character. Sometimes I agree with this person and sometimes I don't. I was striving to capture not just my thoughts and feelings regarding the place I found myself in, but also to capture something about the people I was meeting, reading about, and interacting with on a daily basis. That said, there are definitely personal events that influenced the making of this record, but they're all mixed up with my imaginings and 1984.
>>Given how guitar-based some of your previous songs have been ("Whatever Happened to Bill Viola?" immediately jumps to mind), you seem to be taking a very conscious step towards more of an electro-rock direction with 1983. What would you say your direct influences are, and how did they help shape the sound of MAE?
It was a conscious direction and it wasn't. Perhaps the most influential factor in why I moved in a more electronic direction was that I was on the road so much. As a result, the musical instrument most available to me was my laptop. It's important to me in my work and also my music to make use of whatever it is I have available to me. I didn't have a band or rehearsal space, and I wasn't interested in making a folk album. What was left was my macbook and my voice, so that's what I used.
Another reason I embraced digital music was that it allowed me to incorporate some of the techniques I had developed in my professional work. Digital editing allows you play endlessly with how something sounds. The majority of the songs on 1983 have a very simple structure because more effort was put into the sound of the instruments and how the vocals were treated. The logic is that if you make the song more accessible in one aspect, you can push the limit in another without alienating the listener. As a result, each song has a fairly distinct approach, which is something that would have been much harder to accomplish with my meager resources if I was dealing with purely acoustic recording.
Before and during the writing process, I was listening to a lot of electro-type hip-hop. In particular, I was in love with Cadence Weapon's Breaking Kayfabe album. In his songs, Mr. Weapon makes no attempt to hide the fact that he's using digital trickery. The seams between loops and samples are very prominent and an integral part of his sound. Jel, the beatsmith from Themselves and Subtle also does this, but perhaps to a less post-apocalyptic degree. So does El-P in his amazing opus I'll Sleep When You're Dead. Everything is chopped up and very dense, but it still hangs together like mosaic. Additionally, the subject matter that I was trying to address really lended itself to a more urban sound, so once a story started to emerge, I started to go even further with the electronic element.
Along with this electronic-based rap, I was listening to a slew of different bands. I deliberately tried to imitate the production on Wire's Read And Burn Eps, which I think comes across on songs like "Astray" and "The Quiet Man". I love the sinister sound of The Swans, and also Liars' second and third albums to pieces, but my favorite album of the last few years has to be Battles' Mirrored album. The amount of ideas and invention in those eleven songs is astounding. It's like the aural counterpart to anime, it's so high-stimulation.
Finally, I couldn't get enough of Deastro's Keepers album. It's a solo, homestudio effort I believe. Very imaginative and just plain honest. There's a lot of agression on 1983, and listening to stuff like Deastro, Mario Diaz's de Leon's album Mira, and Panda Bear's Person Pitch helped temper some of that raw, anger-fueled energy into something more positive. On 1983, maybe "Winston + Julia" and "Beautiful Criminal" are examples of this.
>>It's not one of the most well-known facts about you, but a song that you wrote for a particular production ("Save Our Children from the Wolves" from the world premiere of The Insect God) has gone on to be covered by college vocal groups like Just Cuz. To what degree do your songs lend themselves to being covered, or -- more accurately -- how well do you think your "theatrical songs" work as standalone pieces, out of context?
When I write a song for a play that's going to be performed, the goal is to make something that makes sense within the world that the director, actors, and designers have created. Sometimes it's a fully fleshed-out song with musical accompaniment or sometimes it's something that needs to be performed a capella, or sometimes it needs to not be musical at all. As a sound designer, I'm committed to maintaining the rules of the story that we're trying to tell.
Because I've written music in so many different contexts at this point, I've been able to detect certain patterns and consistancies that are a part of everything I write. For example, no matter how the song is being delivered, rules of structure can always be applied, and each composer has his or her own way of structuring a composition. For me, there's always going to be a beginning, middle, and end in whatever way I define those concepts. As I mentioned earlier, I think by making the structure of a song readily accessible, it allows you to get away with much more in terms of the content. Maybe it's this emphasis on structure that allows a lot of my work to be reinvented in very different contexts, but I'm not sure. I'm of the mind that any song can be reinvented in any way. It might not always be successful, but it can still happen. In this regard, a song is just like a play or any other form of story.
>>How has being a sound designer ultimately shaped your musical experiences?
When you spend all of your professional life listening, you're bound to develop a very sensitive ear. A sound designer will be able to classify different sounds by emotional response along with its more practical aspects. It no longer becomes enough to pipe in cricket noises to indicate to the audience that we are outside and it's nighttime. If he or she uses crickets at all, an experienced designer will spend a good amount of time choosing from an array of different types of cricket sounds from all over the world. Ultimately, the final decision will be whichever one tells the story best, even if you're using a recording of crickets from Bhutan for a play set in Pittsburgh. This sort of attention to specificity means I spend a lot of time tweaking my music to the point where everything exists in the same world, or, at least, it's as close as it's going to get.
In addition to making my ear more sensitive, being a sound designer has also dramatically changed how I actually listen. For me, sound design and composition are both highly visual processes now. Perhaps spending so many hours comparing audio to whatever is happening on stage, or anticipating what's going to happen on stage, has left my brain always wanting a visual counterpart to whatever it is I'm hearing. Like a mild form of synesthesia. When I'm mixing, editing, or just listening for pleasure, I keep my eyes shut a lot of the time because there's a whole visual aspect that's taking place. It's very helpful in the mixing process because it allows me to shape sound in a very intuitive way. Almost literally moving sounds around the way you would different layers of images in Photoshop.
On a practical level, sound design has also put me in many situations where I had to be very creative in order to solve a problem. I think anyone who works in theater professionally has had the experience of being expected to pull something out of thin air. In my world, you'll be asked to write an original composition on a harp in a place where you have no access to a harp nor the money to buy one. So I'll record some stuff on my classical guitar in an open tuning and spend hours tweaking it on my computer until it sounds more or less like a harp. One time I had to write the musical accompaniment to a fifteen minute avant garde opera with only thirteen pages of disjointed lyrics as a reference point. In three days. I had a drum machine, an old Roland keyboard, and M.I.A.'s Arular album playing on the stereo for inspiration. Largely due to the committment of the actors, the end result was amazing and one of my proudest accomplishments. But I never thought I could do it until I did it. Sound design has profoundly shaped what kind of composer I am, in ways both practical and artistic.
>>You seem to very much be experimenting around with certain styles and textures on this album, particularly with the "sampled" phonate sounds on "Beautiful Criminal". To what degree was this album "considered" and to what degree did playing around with different things ultimately shape your creative process?
As I mentioned, I was consciously making an effort to incorporate some of the discoveries I had made when experimenting with sounds and music on professional projects. There were a few things that I knew I wanted to be on 1983. Some of them are hard to articulate, but I'll give an example. Often for a sound design, I'd find myself editing a sound just to the point where it's barely recognizable. I would do this with the intention of making the sound harder for the audience to define, but just enough of the sound is recognizable enough in order to get the imagination firing and generate some kind of emotional response. I read later that this was often a goal of Brian Eno's when he produced; to consciously mask the defining characteristics of an instrument with the intention that the listener will no longer be able to bring their preconceived ideas of what a trumpet or a guitar is to the listening experience. It's my belief that it engages the listener on a deeper level because it asks your imagination to work harder at attributing this sound to its source. When it works best, it significantly delays the time it takes for your brain to make sense of what it is you are hearing, which means that you spend more time reacting on a more primal, more emotional level. Of course, whether or not I achieve this in my own production is debatable, but that was certainly a goal that electronic music allowed me to persue. It makes it much easier to blur lines. For example, many of the textures and sounds on 1983 are actually sampled guitar. Every song has guitar on it in some form or another, but more often than not, it's not recognizable as such.
Another method I used was to try to create a song using self-generated, but more-or-less random sounds. If you go to my website and check out the splash page, there's one of six images or so that will come up. These were made in a similar sort of fashion. I used a very basic drawing program, and made some kind of picture very quickly with random movements in less than a minute. That became the starting point, much as I would write a few short riffs very quickly and record them.
The next step was throwing the picture into Photoshop and then spending a lot of time tweaking it until something interesting happened. For many of the songs in 1983, I used self-generated samples that were improvised very quickly, then reshaped and edited many times over until a real song began to emerge. Much as I have many MAE logos that weren't successful and are not to be found on my website, I also have many songs that didn't work out because the samples I was using didn't lead anywhere. The songs that were successful became the basis for 1983.
>>Within two weeks of its release, MAE has already been blogged about in places as far as Quebec and Hungary. Has the response to the album surprised you at all?
The response has certainly surprised me. The only goal I had when I started 1983 was to finish it. Now that it's done, I definitely want people to hear it, but even if it never reaches more than a thousand pairs of ears, I'd still be content to have finished a full-length album that I am proud of. But I keep finding little posts on the internet here and there (when I am unapologetically Googling Motorcycles Are Everywhere) -- evidence that a few people liked it enough to want their friends to hear it. Those sorts of word-of-mouth endorsements are very satisfying to me.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the album release has been where it's ended up. Malaysia, Poland, Brazil -- all over the place within the span of a week. Never have I so directly experienced that the internet has completely changed the way information is exchanged. I am in awe of it.
>>Finally, so far in your career, what has been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what's been your proudest accomplishment?
Sometimes I wish I took more time to enjoy the fact that I was getting paid to sound design. Trying to make ends meet in the world of professional theater can be very challenging. With that can come a lot of frustration and the feeling that you're allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. You work very hard for the minimum of compensation. But the people that thrive in theater are those that love it so much, that it doesn't matter. And eventually, you start to be paid what you are worth. Before that happens, however, you have to endure what seems to be an endless amount of time stuck in a dark room for twelve hours at a stretch, going over the same moment over and over again until it is art. It can be painful, and it often took its toll on my attitude. Those are the moments I wished that I had sat back, taken in a breath, and reminded myself that I was getting payed to play.
Hello there, loyal Globecat fans!
There are several wonderful things to celebrate, so let's just get it out there. First off, our humble little blog has now crossed the 10,000 hit mark, which is nothing short of incredible and worthy of mention. It's through your constant support that this has been possible, and for everyone who links us on a blog, Tweets our latest endeavor, or links a quote to an artist's Wikipedia page, we are nothing short of grateful. GC does very little self-promotion: people often stumble upon our site and champion the material, and it's for that we want to thank you.
Secondly, Globecat is taking a short break, but for good reason: co-founder Evan "Evcat" Sawdey has recently been promoted to full-on Interviews Editor at PopMatters.com. The first few weeks are invariably going to be the craziest, simply because his inbox is filled with hundreds of e-mails from dozens of publicists, so GC will take a short vacation until things settle down.
There are wonderful things on the horizon for GC, including a very special project involving several artists that can be considered "Globecat alumni" -- it's going to be a thing to behold ...
Remember to send you ideas and suggestions to globecatmusic [at] gmail [dot] com, and we will be back with you shortly!
Lands & Peoples are downright scary.
No, they're not going to scare away children during Halloween, but in listening to the debut release by this trio -- consisting of multi-instrumentalists Caleb Moore, Amanda Willis, and Beau Cole -- it is damn-near frightening how fully formed the band sounds on just their first EP. Though it's easy to spot the group's influences, it proves rather difficult to pin down the Lands & Peoples "sound". Emotional without being self-indulgent, this is lo-fi indie rock with a distinct modern twist, beautifully textured but never once coming across as overlabored (check out their MySpace to hear what makes them so unique). With their eponymous EP just out and a full-length album due shortly, there is no better time than to hit up the band with one of Globecat's trademark Aleatories (and if that isn't enough, Lands & Peoples have the distinction of being our 25th). Without further ado, Lands & Peoples ...
1. Favorite word?
2. Favorite board game?
Monopoly (Amanda=Car, Beau=Boot, Caleb=Thimble)
3. Favorite key to write in?
Probably A minor, or G.
4. Favorite person to have worked with?
The Secret Mountains, we just finished the first leg of our tour with them ... sooooooo much fun!
5. Favorite piece of equipment?
Fender Prosonic coupled with an Electro-Harmonix Reverb Pedal, woohoo!
6. Favorite visual artist?/Favorite work of visual art?
Tie between Gustav Klimt and Nicholas Gurewitch (of PBF comics).
18. Favorite pick-up line?
"Is your father a lumberjack? No? Oh ... OK ... um ... well ... 'wood' you go out with me?"
28. What instrument would you most like to learn to play?
Upright Bass, we all agree.
31. Other than musician, what career would you most enjoy?
Caleb: Record company scout or producer.
Beau: Actor, wait is that stupid, uh, Chef, that was a good answer.
32. Best thing you learned this week/month?
Tours are fun and hard and bathing in a lake, while fun, isn't ACTUALLY that clean. Also iPhones are REAL helpful.
42. What's an image that haunts you to this day?
That scene in The Shining where the hot woman turns into the old lady, OH MY GOD that scene is creepy.
45. What's the best lie you've ever told?
We've never been good at lying.
56. Have you ever considered writing or producing for other artists?
Yes. Baltimore's a place that allows all types of artists to collaborate in the craziest of ways ... and there are so many artists, not just musicians, that we LOVE in Baltimore, so I think if the opportunity ever came up, we [would] jump on it.
58. Least rock star thing you've ever done?
Watching Twilight with Caleb's mom.
72. A few years ago, Beck gave an interview for SPIN in which he lamented the glut of reality TV shows and blogs about musicians, wanting to know less details about their life because he felt they were more mysterious that way (he liked to envision Devo as living in a crazed art-deco pyramid when he was young, instead of just some guys in a tour bus). Do you feel that there's a lack of mystique out there for musicians in today's YouTube age? Do you feel your band carries any mystique?
These days, it is possible to be in complete, honest, and direct communication with people who listen to your music and pay attention to that sort of thing. But, at the same time, you don't have to, you don't have to answer every interview, you don't have to have a blog, or be on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, etc. I think that a band can use those things as tools to communicate whatever, even outright lie if they want, manifest their own "mystique." But I don't think anyone can deny that "the Internet" with all it's sites and blogs and viral explosions has given SO many artists exposure that they otherwise would never have gotten, that's the important thing ... and it's a good thing, for the most part.
74. Better to burn out or to fade away?
76. Dream collaboration?
Working with Beach House, co-produced by Chris Taylor and Jon Brion.
77. What was the hardest part about recording your current release?
Well, we recorded and mixed everything by ourselves in our homes. Knowing you're not a professional yet wanting it to be perfect ... letting stuff go was really hard.
89. You just died. I'm sorry. Fortunately, your will states that you want very specific music to be played at your funeral. What did you choose?
1) Will Smith--Gettin' Jiggy With It
2) Men Without Hats--Safety Dance
3) Weird Al--Fat
4) Biggy--Big Poppa
90. Sexiest thing about you?
Amanda: "My big heart."
Beau & Caleb about Amanda: "Her legs."
Caleb: "My large nostrils."
Beau: "My unibrow."
Visit Lands & People's official website here.
By day, Chad VanGaalen is your everyday, quasi-experimental songwriter with two presitgious Polaris Prize nominations under his belt and a rapidly expanding cult fanbase. By night, he dons a cape, a drum machine, and then becomes the infamous ... Black Mold!!!
Well, not really, but VanGaalen -- following his critically acclaimed third album Soft Airplane (2008, Flemish Eye) -- has decided to open his world to include a side-project called Black Mold, a largely experimental affair that includes everything from faux-classical compositions to drum-n-bass electronic numbers, as well as everything inbetween. It's a remarkable change of pace for the prolific songwriter and animator, but for those who had been listening all the way back to his first album Infiniheart, you got the sense that something like Black Mold was coming, and Mold's debut album (Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz) has songs that were culled from over 50 mini-albums that VanGaalen has been working on from time to time. Sitting down with Evcat, VanGaalen reveals that he's amazed he got away with the fidelity of recording his first album, is now gearing himself up to submit pieces to film festivals, and in the biggest shocker of them all, reveals that -- in fact -- he's not that big a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan ...
Well first off we wanted to congratulate you on scoring your second Polaris Prize nomination.
Right on, thanks.
You’ve done two records prior to this, but it appears that Soft Airplane just brought you up to a whole new level of notoriety. Has the response to this record surprised you at all?
Um … a little bit, yeah. I’d say so. This is the first record I put out that I really 100% behind. It’s a record that I would probably listen to if I were … forced to listen to it. The other two were just OK, but this one -- yeah, it definitely had a good response.
I actually first heard about you during one of those Laundromat sessions where you play “Molten Light”, and then an ambulance goes by and adds to the ambience of that. Of course, we’re here talking about the Black Mold project, and the first question that comes to mind is simple: why isn’t this a Chad VanGaalen record?
There’s no vocals on it for one thing. The second thing is, well, well see what happens with it but I don’t really have any drive to play any of these songs and recreate them. I guess there’s also having the [chance] to experiment and to put out whatever I want on a Black Mold record -- it doesn’t have to have any rhyme or reason. I mean, Skelliconnection and Infiniheart [both] have Black Mold-ish types of songs, instrumentals or dance music -- [they] didn’t really do much for the record, so they always felt sort of out of place, but with the Black Mold stuff I can just do whatever I want and just kind of have an outlet to put it out to the world. Those songs just never really had a place.
So you did write stuff specifically for this project then, so it’s not just a series of instrumental oddities that were just lying around.
No, I mean yeah: this stuff was strictly meant to come out on a Black Mold record.
Obviously, the Black Mold stuff is kind of all over the place, ranging from dance music to stuff more jazzy in nature, but I would argue “Metal Spider Webs” was the most idiosyncratic song you’ve done, as it loops a simple, solemn cello line over and over again. It’s almost as if you’re exploring darker musical territory than what we’ve seen previously in a Chad VanGaalen record. Can we expect some sort of thematic arc to Black Mold?
As I was explaining before, with the Black Mold stuff, those songs are taken from about 50 or so different records. “Metal Spider Webs” and “Barn Swallow” were taken from a record of sort of more classically bent instrumental pieces that were maybe a little bit more orchestrated, and then “Dr. Snouth” was taken from a series of songs that I wrote for the original Solaris Tarkovsky Russian sci-fi film. The first Black Mold record is maybe an introduction to a whole bunch of other records.
When you say “first Black Mold record”, are you implying that you’ll use this as an outlet later on?
When this record comes out, anyone who buys this will get a download code for a hundred bonus songs that’ll be grouped into sort of little mini-records that will maybe get people like “Oh OK, I get it!”
Jumping back on a point you said just a bit ago about your albums having instrumentals on there -- as well as your work on that Tchaikovsky piece -- well, have you considered scoring movies or things of that nature?
Yeah, I mean just as far as people asking me to do it and having the time to do it. Black Mold is going to come out with three animated pieces that will accompany it, and this one track called “Bald Static” that’s 17 minutes long that didn’t make the record (just ‘cos it’s too long) that’ll have an animate short along with it, so there’ll be 25 minutes worth of animation that comes with the Black Mold record.
So in terms of outside film work, you’re just waiting for that phone call?
Yeah, and also just [having] the time to do it. It hangs on what I’m working on at the moment too, ‘cos I’m trying to prepare more animated shorts that I can enter into film festivals -- and that takes up a lot of time, right?
Just a bit yeah -- now you’ll be Chad VanGaalen, King of All Media!
Just a few quick questions here. First off: when was the last time you listened to Infiniheart?
Oh … I don’t know. A long time ago? Years probably?
I always am curious because as one changes and evolves as an artist, it’s always interesting to go back and here where your mindset was at the beginning. What came to mind when you last heard your debut?
Just fidelity. I can’t believe that the fidelity of that record is pretty insane. I know I got pinned as “lo-fi” but I’m very much trying to get past that. When I hear to that record, I think “man I can’t believe I got away with recording that.” An entire drum kit with one mic that I got for free or from a pawn shop -- which can be quirky, but at the same time I wasn’t really … I was trying to work in stereo, and I hadn’t had a lot of success working in stereo, but I’ve learned a few tricks since then …
Who is your favorite Ninja Turtle and why?
Oh man! I’m not quite the huge Ninja Turtle fan -- I never really was. I’d have to say … whoever the dude with the nunchaku was. I’m pretty sure it was Michelangelo.
Well we got one last question for ya: so far in your career, what’s been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what’s been your proudest accomplishment?
My biggest regret … my ability to focus on one thing. As far as touring and presenting myself, it’s a little bit underdeveloped. My skills as a live musician were always sort of lacking and I never really thought it was a necessary thing, ‘cos I was always coming at it from a music-lovers point of view: I just listened to records. Now I’m beginning to appreciate [how to] rock out. My regret is that I didn’t put as much into that career-wise.
My proudest moment? I don’t even know. I don’t have much to pride myself with. I don’t know, maybe just the people that you meet along the way. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve never really had a “weird moment” as far as being in the entertainment industry. I think it’s a pretty weird industry: a lot of horror stories, and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve never really had to deal with weirdos or people trying to fuck me over or anything like that. For the most part, it’s just been good people that have gravitated towards [my work]. People like Ian at Flemish Eye and Sub Pop -- it just came around at a great time and both labels have treated me awesome and I’ve never had any problems. I mean you hear nightmare stories of “Oh they gave me a $50,000 advance and now we gotta tour ‘til 2030 …” [Laughs.]
Visit Black Mold's MySpace here.
Visit Chad VanGaalen's MySpace here.
Chris Milk is one very lucky fellow. He's also a very talented one as well.
Milk, in a very short amount of time, has gradually become one of the leading music video artists of our time, starting out big by directing Kanye West's breathtakingly powerful clip for "Jesus Walks" and then moving on to work on clips from everyone to Modest Mouse to Courtney Love, Green Day & U2's one-off collaboration to the most abstract, heart-ripping (literally) clip for Gnarls Barkley's "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?". Like Jonathan Glazer and Mark Romanek before him, there isn't a "trademark" to Milk's vision: just nothing but high-quality work that reflects the needs of the song, not the record label. Alternately funny and dramatic, touching and exciting, Milk -- sitting down with Evcat in an interview that has taken close to year to happen -- finally spills on the inspiration behind some of his classic clips, how he used to pretend to be an industry client just to get copies of his favorite promo clips, and wishes to one day have people ascribe meaning to music videos in the same way they do their favorite songs ...
>>First thing is first: Gnarls Barkley's "Who's Gonna Save My Soul". I must say, this clip seems to be a tipping point for you, as it melds both your surrealistic comic sensibilities with the gritty, emotional gravitas that fills up your videography. What was your inspiration, and -- ultimately -- what do you hope people take out of this?
Thanks for saying that. It stems mostly out of the personal experiences I’ve had in relationships. I’m more drawn to these sort of stories and would love to tell them more often. Dark, comedic, surreal, this is the type of material I respond to in features, and it’s the kind of music videos I love to write. I’ve actually written a lot more of these but they’ve never been produced. Some of my favorite Kanye videos are sitting in a notebook and will never happen. This Gnarls video I’ve pitched to 3 or 4 bands over the years. I’m actually glad they all said no because I think it was predestined to happen with this song. The emotion and musical tonality line up too perfectly. It had to be this track. As far as the “take away” I don’t really like to think in those terms. All I can do is make something I personally find compelling, put it out there, and maybe it works for other people. I’ve certainly had occasions when it hasn’t worked for anyone. My ex-girlfriend for instance did not care for this Gnarls video at all.
>>When a video director breaks big into the market, it often feels that they go from being popular to damn near ubiquitious overnight, taking on any and all comers, spreading themselves creatively thin in the process (Mark Webb immediately comes to mind). Yet you have been very selective in both your commercials and videos -- what, ultimately, draws you in to working with a particular artist? How has your creative process changed over time?
What’s funny is that when I was trying to get my first video I wrote on any track they would send me. I wrote on some of the most embarrassing music you can think of. None of them would give me a video. I used to write constantly every week, never went out on the weekend, just sat home and struggled to come up with concepts to music I didn’t like. It was over a year and a half of this before I got my first video. By dumb luck and the good graces of God it was for a band that I loved, the Chemical Brothers. Kanye West saw that video and was determined that I do his first video with a budget off his first album. When Kanye broke big I did in a way as well. That was my third video. I had the luxury that most videos directors don’t get of getting to be choosy early.
I decided a while ago though I had little desire to be prolific. I would much rather do a small body of work that I’m proud of than be the guy who does thousands of music videos and works with every artist. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I respect it, it’s just not me. I can’t work that way. I do one project at a time, and obsess over it until it’s finished. I live small. I drive a 96 Volvo turbo wagon. I have very little overhead. I don’t have kids in private school or a Ferrari payment. I can do the few projects I’m really interested in a year, and still be fine.
The artists I’m drawn to are the ones that value music videos as a viable art form in its own right. We are creating something new together. Yes it has the song, but ultimately it’s creatively a new work. Sometimes there are artists that I love, but I just can’t figure out a visual component for the song. So I end up turning it down. Those kill me.
And by the way, I think Mark Webb is really talented. It’s not easy to be consistent with work spanning such a wide range of artists, and I think he has been. Plus his movie is top notch.
>>What videos/directors do you draw inspiration from?
When I was in film school I used to call DP agents pretending I was a potential client to get 3/4 video copies of the clips I was obsessed with. Most of them were by Mark Romanek, David Fincher, or Spike Jonze.
>>Much has been made of your multiple collaborations with Kanye, and -- of course -- there's the fact that he made three different versions of his "Jesus Walks" video, though yours, ultimately, is considered the definitive version. Is it strange to see multiple versions of clips like that floating around -- does it somehow detract from the ownership of your work? (I feel this question particularly interesting for video directors, as we very much live in the age of YouTube/viral media now)
Not really. The "Jesus Walks" saga is a long one that I won’t recount here. But I’ll tell you that Kanye’s intention was never to have all three videos released.
Seeing someone else’s interpretation of a video you had in your head happens all the time. Usually though you lost the job to someone else. Personally I find it fascinating to see someone else’s interpretation. You can get so locked inside your own head with an idea that it’s refreshing to see another angle on it. The more the merrier.
I have a sort of fundamental philosophical problem with music videos though. I’m actually not a big fan of the finite nature of them, like “this is the ultimate definitive sequence of images to accompany this song. There shall be no others”. I think one reason raw music at its core is so powerful is because it intertwines with people and their lives. They sing along to it in the car, it emotionally scores that one summer they had, it allows an interaction and an involvement on the part of the listener. They can make it their own.
Music videos don’t have that. It’s always “here’s the video, shut up, watch it, now go about your life”. I would like to find a way that people can invest in a music video the way they invest in a song. We’ll see though, I’m working on some ideas.
>>Finally, so far in your career, what's been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what's been your proudest accomplishment?
Biggest regret is working hard on a music video for 4 months, that by my own rules I shouldn’t have been doing in the first place, nearly perishing in the process, only to have the record company re-edit and animate over the whole thing, then ban me from the label for taking my name off it.
Proudest accomplishment, really I just feel incredibly lucky that I get to make music videos for a living. Five years ago my goal was to just do one before I died.
Visit Chris Milk's website.
On Part I of our amazing discussion with Kronos Quartet founder/violinist David Harrington, we discussed a lot of what went into making Floodplain, their latest, transglobal masterpiece. In Part II, Harrington discusses the unusual challenges in covering Blind Willy Johnson (and the group's incredible solution), what the Kronos Quartet's "definitive" lineup was, and reflecting on his own personal accomplishments in his three decade plus career ...
I’ve heard that record.
Yeah, and I was completely overwhelmed by the sadness contained in those songs. The only thing I found more fascinating is that about ten years ago, an album like this would have never had a chance even in a niche marketplace, but now we’re in an age where a physical and digital release is easily, easily doable and it has the chance to reach listeners in ways that no one would have previously thought possible.
Right! And that’s what albums can do now: they can celebrate these possibilities. The idea for Floodplain germinated right around the time of the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration. Basically, I decided early -- probably in March of 2003 -- that I was going to try to learn more about Iraqi music. Later as the “Axis of Evil” got defined (and that would include Iranian music), pretty soon this lead to the realization that there’s entire worlds of music that I had no idea about. A lot of our albums have something to do with sharing discoveries -- in fact, most of them do. [Laughs.] So for me, this process involved a lot of listening and the thrill of finding something that you really love that you hadn’t heard before that you wanted to play. That’s a part of this album.
With your Dark Was the Night compilation and your Blind Willy Johnson cover -- plain and simply: why Blind Willy Johnson?
Well here’s how that happened: I was on the phone with Bryce Dessner and we were talking over a couple concerts that we were going to be playing at his festival in Cincinnati (MusicNow). We were talking over things, and then he said “You know, we’re right at the final stages of this Red Hot compilation -- you wouldn’t happen to have anything that you’ve never recorded that you’d really like to record?” I said “Oh yeah, definitely.” He said “What is it?” I said “’Dark Was the Night’ by Blind Willy Johnson.” There was this kind of silence over the phone. [Laughs.] A few seconds later he said “I can’t believe it. We’ve been talking about having that song on the album and this would be perfect.” Well our sound engineer Scott Fraser had this idea for me -- and we’ve played the piece on and off for a few years -- and in concert it just didn’t quite come off as vividly as we wanted, mainly ‘cos of my part. It had to do with the sound coming from a bottleneck violin. Scott suggested I put guitar strings on my violin.
That’s what gives it that sound.
Yeah, that’s how that sound came about. A suggestion from Scott Fraser, who co-produced Floodplain and You’ve Stolen My Heart. He’s one of our sound engineers for concerts as well; we go way back with Scott. He’s really an amazing musician. When Scott had mentioned that, I knew that that was the solution, so I really wanted to record the piece that way. We had been talking about recording it, and to me it’s one of the mythic American pieces, right at the center of our entire musical history in a certain way. Anyways, that’s how that happened. Then we were on tour early in September  and we recorded it and a week or so later Scott & I mixed it and we got it to Bryce and after that they decided to call the release Dark Was the Night.
One of those “happy coincidences.”
Yeah, totally! [Laughs.]
I have kind of a personal question for you. You’ve obviously been there during the Kronos Quartet’s inception ‘lo those many years ago. You had a solid lineup for awhile, and only in the past decade have you had a couple of changes. Just out of curiosity: is there ever a “definitive” lineup of the Kronos Quartet in your mind?
Oh I think the definitive lineup is the current one. But, it’s always been that way! I mean, Joan Jeanrenaud was with us for 20 years, and that always felt definitive. Now Jeff [Zeigler] is here and that feels definitive to me, and a lot of it has to do with the material that’s being written and that we’re playing and exploring. We had just come from Australia where we put together this incredible piece using instruments devised and invented by Jon Rose, and they’re musical fences, and together with Jon we created this theatre piece that closed our concert at Sydney Opera House, and it kind of lifted things to a new place in our music, and for me, that’s definitive.
Finally, so far in your career, what’s been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what’s been your proudest accomplishment?
Well, are you talking about professional regrets or personal regrets?
You can interpret it however you wish.
Well when I think of regrets, the first thing that comes to mind is the death of my son. And there’s nothing else that even compares to that in terms of sadness or influence on my life or anything -- so that would be that. In terms of accomplishment, I think I’d have to say keeping my family together in spite of that tragedy and also then becoming a grandparent shortly before Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld started this damn war. The incredible joyousness of being a grandparent -- it’s something I’d highly advise buy only if I was asked. [Laughs.] Because it’s a very personal topic. All I can say is I now have two grandkids and I get so much energy from them: it’s just … the sense of wonder and idealism and the desire to explore has for me invigorated my life so much.
Visit the Kronos Quartet's official website.
It's virtually impossible to summarzie the work of the Kronos Quartet into a single paragraph -- but we're gonna try anyways.
Formed in 1973 by violinist David Harrington, the Kronos Quartet has gone on to become one of the most widely-recognized classical groups on the planet, winning a Grammy in 2004 for the Alban Berg album Lyric Suite, working with everyone from Philip Glass to Terry Riley to Steve Reich on specific pieces while also having works written specifically for the Quartet to perform. They've even gained extensive clout in the indie-rock community as well, having worked on the soundtracks to films like Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, covering Nine Inch Nails one second while contributing the title track to the double-disc Red Hot Dark Was the Night compilation the next. This group has yet to meet a challenge they haven't conquered, and it's for this very reason that the Kronos Quartet remain peerless in the avant-classical realm.
Speaking with Evcat, David Harrington was more than happy to talk about the group's latest disc Floodplain (a transglobal album that tackles songs both forgotten and new -- some even written specifically for this release), their encounters with musical fences, meeting puppeteers in Bali, and learning how to craft the perfect Blind Willy Johnson cover. This interview was so extensive, we've had to divide it into two parts [you can read Part II right here]. So, without further ado, the inimitable Kronos Quartet ...
So how are you doing?
Oh I’m fine.
Just about ready to go on tour, I hear.
Yeah we are leaving on Friday for Europe.
Oh yeah: looking forward to it. Got a lot of cool stuff to play.
Understandably! Which actually leads me to my first question: this year has been extraordinary for you guys, ranging from contributing the title track to the Red Hot Dark Was the Night compilation to releasing your own full-length disc Floodplain. Given that you guys have essentially released an album a year like clockwork since 1985, do you ever see yourself slowing down at all and giving yourself a breather?
You know, breaks are not on the calendar here. [Laughs.] It’s not something I’m really that interested in. I mean, for me, my battery gets charged by music and by hearing wonderful new pieces and composers and instruments -- that’s what I need to do: just keep charged.
When you go on tours like that, do you often go out to try and listen to the music of the places you’re visiting as well or is it usually performing strictly Kronos-type material?
Well, most often we’re pretty involved in the getting to and from our shows and sound checks and things, but generally what’s happened in the last 36 years is that I have meetings with musicians from wherever we are and people hand me a lot of recordings and scores and stuff: it’s one way I’m able to stay in touch with what’s happening in different places. We just got back from Bali a couple weeks ago. We had a week there -- and that’s kind of unusual for us to stay in a location that long -- and it was fantastic, ‘cos not only did we get to hear some amazing music, but we also got to meet the Master Puppeteer from Bali, and he gave us a private performance. He’s retired now, but he sort of came out of retirement …
But an actual puppeteer is what you’re saying?
Yeah. His name is Mister Sitia and he’s generally acknowledged as the greatest of the Balanese puppeteers and he’s in his late 70s right now. His eyesight is kind of going and his body has been worked hard for many, many years. He did a dance performance with us -- his son and grandkids did the music. It was kind of like seeing Shakespeare in Hamlet or Beethoven doing one of his last sonatas. On the order of artistic experiences that I’ve never had but have wanted to have: that was one of the high points of anything I could possibly imagine. That just doesn’t happen that often.
Let’s just jump real quick to Floodplain. I get this sense that you’re always pushing the Quartet into new sounds and new directions, whether it be getting sampled by Faith No More on their Angel Dust album to performing with Nelly Furtado to Nine Inch Nails to Mogwai, all while still working with the likes of Terry Riley on top of that. In listening to the new album, one of the songs that immediately jumped out was “Tashweesh”, a collaboration you did with the electronic group Ramallah Underground. What was the germination for this particular piece?
Well I first heard Ramallah Underground on MySpace. It would’ve been two and a half years ago since I first heard them. I was just kind of looking around on MySpace for some wonderful music. I don’t even know how I found them, but for me I was just hearing a sound and an approach that was distinctive; I’ve never heard anything quite like that, and I really, really like their music. So I got in touch with them. I sent them a bunch of our recordings and they sent me a whole bunch of theirs; so we kind of began to exchange ideas. I mentioned this album idea that I had at that point, and asked them if they would like to write something for it. Basically, they wrote a whole lot of music and asked us to choose something, and what I chose was “Tashweesh”.
So that was a piece they had already done?
No -- they wrote it especially for us and for the album. They wrote three or four pieces for the album, and we chose that one.
One of the more striking moments on the new album I found was “Ya Habibi Ta’ala” which I liked because it sounded both traditional and modern at the same time. It was very strictly tied in with its traditional Eastern roots but was also immediately accessible as well. Do you ever yourself trying to “contemporize” any of these pieces in order to more immediately grab the ears of Western listeners who may not otherwise get a chance to hear these sounds?
Well that’s not something that comes into my thinking, really. For me it’s just finding something that magnetizes me and wanting to find a way to bring into our orbit or our world. So “Ya Habibi Ta’ala” -- I heard that on a recording of this very young great singer from Egypt from the 1940s. Azmahan was her name and she died tragically during the Second World War. She appeared in a few movies. This song just really attracted me and I thought “Wow, we’ve got to play this!” [Laughs.] So that’s pretty much what it was, and then I talked to my friend Osvaldo Golijov and played it for him and he made a version for us and then we kind of worked upon that, and “reorchestrated” or “retranslated” his version or whatever you might want to call it, and that became what you hear on the recording.
Floodplain travels a lot of distance in a short amount of time, ranging from the brutal piece “…hold me, neighbor, in this storm…” [by Aleksandra Vrebalov] to some more spritely numbers, but its ambition and immense worldview are never in question. Ultimately, what do you want a listener to take out of Floodplain after listening to it straight through?
You know, first of all the title of the album, I was trying to explain to my wife what I had in mind -- actually, almost exactly like what you’re asking. Like, what is it that we’re trying to communicate? I was mentioning that for me, the world of music right now is almost like this amazing river which is kind of overflowing with riches and with music. So the banks of the river are flooding. And then she said “Well the album has to be called Floodplain.” [Laughs.] The idea that the traditional classification and little areas of the world of music are not connected -- for me that idea doesn’t work anymore. I feel connected to so many musicians and so many sounds and so many instruments and voices and I would like to share those connections with our audience. Just the vitality of being a part of the world of music right now is -- for me -- totally thrilling and very inspiring. I think that that is at the base of what I would like to try to communicate.
Visit the Kronos Quartet's official website.
Riceboy Sleeps is not your average side-project.
Consisting of Alex Somers and Sigur Ros lead singer Jón Þór Birgisson, the two have been working under the "Riceboy Sleeps" moniker for some time, but -- interestingly -- it was only recently that they've included music as part of this experience. Alex and Jón have been working in the visual arts for some time, so far having released two whole books of their pieces (a part of which can be seen on the graphic above). Occasionally recording under the name "Jónsi & Alex", it wasn't until early this year when Riceboy made their formal recording debut with the gorgeous 8-minute instrumental "Happiness" on the Dark Was the Night Red Hot charity compilation. Now, their debut album is due in Europe next week. When Evcat spoke to Alex, he mentioned how much of this album was recorded on a solar-powered laptop, he doesn't like to classify what style of music the guys do, and we haven't even seen their recipe book yet ...
>>Riceboy Sleeps appears to be an evolution for both of you, as it relies more on texture than melody, making a sharp contrast to both Sigur Ros and Parachutes respectively. How would you classify your own material: drone? Post-rock? Ambient?
We have never classified our songs before. I guess we have never needed to do it... for me, the songs rely more on melody than texture. Even though these songs are slow and full of texture, without the melody it would all fall apart. Melody is always first for us.
>>What made you decide to contribute to, much less make your debut with, the Dark Was the Night compliation?
Our friend Bryce, from the band the National asked us if we would like to donate one song because he knew we were going to be releasing our album soon. We thought it was a good cause and we were happy to do it.
>>Though both bands have recorded in various locations prior, what made you decided to record your record primarily in Hawaii?
We actually recorded the whole album at home in our living room in Reykjavik. We did mix the album in Hawaii though, and that was amazing. We decided to not mix in a studio, and mix the album ourselves somewhere different. Jónsi ended up finding this Raw food commune in the middle of the jungle ... so we went there. We shipped our speakers and other gear there. And we worked from a laptop on 100% solar power. It was a really cozy was to mix the album.
>>Listening to "All the Big Trees" and "Daniell in the Sea", the small ambient touches remind me both of glitch/IDM artist Oval and the slower numbers by Four Tet, almost as if the song is based more on its atmosphere than it's formal structure. What was the writing approach like for this album? Much like Sigur Ros' Hvraf/Hiem release, can you see yourself ever taking these songs into a stripped down, possibly acoustic format?
We were trying to create an atmosphere that felt good to us. Making these songs was a little different to writing ‘pop’ songs on piano or guitar. We would slowly build a song over a long period of time ... until it felt whole. We worked on this album on and off for five years. The album itself is all acoustic instruments and voices ... there are no synthesizers or electronics actually ... We love to treat the voices and instruments heavily inside samplers to create new sounds. So if we decide to play concerts it will be all acoustic too ...
>>For both of your parent bands, it seems that the very purpose of your groups is aimed at sweet, beautiful catharsis. By abandoning traditional pop structures with Riceboy, however, it feels like you're trying to reach the same goal but by alternate means. What, ultimately, do you want a listener to take away from a Riceboy Sleeps experience?
There is nothing specific we are saying. Only hoping to give people a good feeling or inspire them...
>>Will there be live Riceboy Sleep performances in the near-future? If so, what can we expect?
Maybe, we are not sure yet. Nothing this year for sure though...
>>Finally, so far in the formation and recording process, what has been the biggest regret for you guys, and, conversely, what's been your proudest moment?
We are very happy and proud to share this album with people now. We are also quite excited about this special edition box we’ve been making. It is full of lots of neat stuff, plus another EP we made. One regret might be that we have not published our recipe book yet...
Visit Riceboy Sleeps' official website.
Chris Karman will never, ever, be faulted for lack of ambition.
As the frontman to the alternative space-rock combo Outer 7th, Karman has already carved out his own unique niche in the modern rock landscape, but with his side-project The List, he takes things even further. Formed with fellow guitarist Nate Cooper, The List was initially a musical project based around a sci-fi novel that Cooper's father had written. As time went on, however, the concept was eventually abandoned in favor of the dynamic sounds that Karman and Cooper were able to come up together as The List, ranging from the ping-pong guitar crunch of "STSD" to the hushed, wounded acoustic number "Disease", showcasing a unique brand of eclecticism that is markedly different from Karman's work with Outer 7th (though just as thrilling). With The List's debut EP due out August 25th on Satellite Star, we managed to pull Karman aside to discuss how it felt to have total free reign in the studio, why the sci-fi novel concept was eventually scraped, and why he doesn't mind having The List's debut be equated to that of a good breakup album (even if that wasn't the intention) ...
>>When you formed the band with Nate, you initially designed it as a way to create a concept album about a novel that Nate's father wrote. Though you eventually abandoned that idea, did any remnants of that concept wind up working its way into the List's music? If so, how?
We eventually abandoned the idea to create a concept album because it was so limiting and I was really looking for a project that would allow me to finally let some of the songs that don’t really fit Outer 7th’s mold see the light of day. Those songs just didn’t fit naturally into a concept album, especially a concept album based on a complex narrative. We really truly abandoned the original album altogether, instead opting for an “anything goes” attitude and a new set of songs. That being said, we may revisit the concept album on some future release. It is a great story that could easily translate into a pretty enjoyable album.
>>The thing that strikes me most about your initial recordings is how wildly eclectic they are, as "STSD" could get play on Modern Rock Radio while "Disease" could easily become a viral blog hit. What rules or boundaries did you guys set out when you began recording as the List? What works did you surprise even yourself by?
I wouldn’t say we really had any rules per se, aside from the idea that we both had to be excited about the material we used. Ultimately, there are a lot of boundaries in Outer 7th, not boundaries that have been consciously put in place, but we’ve been a band for a pretty long time and as a band we’re drawn to certain sounds and styles. I didn’t want to have to worry about any such concerns with the List. If we were both excited about a song, we were using it, we’d worry about where it fit on the EP later.
In terms of what works surprised me, that’s a tough one. Having never had free reign of a studio before, I had no idea what we were going end up with at the end of our sessions and most of the songs morphed to some degree once we started to record them. I was consistently inspired by the creative energy that was flying around the studio while we recorded. In a lot of ways, I was surprised by the outcome of the entire project simply because of how malleable the songs turned out to be.
>>There's assuredly a sense of longing on the lyrical content of this disc, especially on "Go Fly", with its constant reminders of being alone, which -- when added with the bittersweet, straightforward of "Disease" -- makes the List's debut EP feel almost, almost, like a breakup album. Where does the lyrical content from the List stem from, and how does that differ from your work with Outer 7th?
As a lyricist, I certainly have a style, a style present in any song I write be it for the List or Outer 7th. I think the music dictates a lot of the content in the lyrics themselves, so there is naturally a different shape to the lyrics I write for the List as opposed to the lyrics I write for Outer 7th. It’s not deliberate necessarily though. By and large, the lyrical content in the List’s songs is definitely personal and immediate, which isn’t always the case in Outer 7th. You certainly can make a case for the EP as a breakup album, it wasn’t really our intention, but the theme of failed relationships and a sense of longing does crop up on most of the songs.
Given the many moods and styles that the List fly through in these six songs, what proved to be the biggest obstacle when recording/engineering this beast?
The biggest obstacle we had was maintaining a sense of structure to the record while allowing ourselves to delve into different moods and styles. We recorded, mixed and mastered the record in two four-day sessions and they were pretty intense. We had a lot of work to do in what seemed like a very short amount of time and there was only two of us (save for the drummer we hired for the sessions). I feel like because we recorded the entire EP in such a short amount of time using similar recording techniques for each of the songs there are a lot of common threads holding everything together.
Lastly, what do you hope people will take out of listening to the List? What do you ultimately hope the band achieves?
Ultimately, I just want the List’s music to be challenging, but somewhat accessible, however that happens to manifest itself. Hopefully, despite the fact that we follow our whims and try to remain as open as possible, we retain a sense of cohesion (however scattershot it may seem upon first listen). And I hope people enjoy the music, of course.
Visit the List's official MySpace.