Eldar plays Jazz Alley next Monday and Tuesday, Dec 3 & 4. Been loving his most recent record, Breakthrough. Combines technical chops with musicality. The phrasings on the Irving Berlin tune “What’ll I Do” are gorgeous. And the Radiohead song “Morning Bell” is transformed as they take the basic idea and vibe and then explore. Cool linear notes come with the CD.
Pretty cool that one of his idols, Chick Corea, (see below for reference) gives him a shout out: “A sparkling command of the instrument – a wide and fine combination of musical approaches – new horizons for music. With my compliments and admiration.”
He’s given a bunch of interviews this year. Culled the best of them. Check it out.
First, from Huffington Post:
Who or what was an early influence on your music?
My mom and my dad. My dad introduced me to jazz. Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, and Miles Davis were among my first encounters with music. My mom is a classical piano teacher who taught me my very first lessons and remained an important teacher throughout my teens.
How would your childhood music teacher describe you?
Promising, yet stubborn and temperamental.
Then, from Keyboard Magazine:
The album opens with “Point of View Redux,” a track that seems to encapsulate your expansive pianistic persona. You’re able to conjure a myriad of sounds from the instrument, from roaring bass register vamps to cascading right hand lines and beyond.
Yeah. There’s also another element that’s less talked about but equally, if not more important, which is phrasing. The ability to control dynamics, time and touch can make music sound distinct and undeniably right. I strive for a consistency and evenness in my piano sound. I think that’s something that listeners will be able to recognize in my playing. So the presentation of the music is as important as the content. If you transcribed that song and gave the exact same notes to another piano player, it’s not going to sound the same because every musician phrases differently.
Besides classical music, what other kinds of music did you listen to and play while preparing to record the new album?
It was a wide range of things. I was listening to a lot of Billie Holiday and was tremendously taken with how she could phrase ideas. That was a huge point of interest for me, and I ended-up recording the song “Good Morning Heartache,” which she recorded as well. I was especially intrigued by how she sang ballads, and that propelled me to look through the repertoire of ballads when I was looking for material for the album. I wanted to record a jazz standard, but not something that was done too often. That’s how I ended-up choosing the tune “What’ll I Do” by Irving Berlin. It has a beautiful melody and really spoke to me.
You’re someone who’s known for having a great deal of technical facility at the keyboard. What do you having that kind of technique allows you to do?
Technical command is a default attribute after a musician spends time learning their instrument. So is melodic and harmonic understanding, as well as having a command of time and being able to execute ideas fluidly in it. There was never a time that I spent endlessly practicing Hanon exercises for hours on end. Never. My technical ability just comes from the sheer amount of time I have spent at the instrument playing – from the standards I learned as a kid, to playing Bach or learning scales, or learning new compositions. I think it’s important that people understand that this kind of technical facility is simply a default attribute of spending time at the instrument.
Sometimes you’ll hear someone say, “This musician has tremendous technical ability, but this other musician has creativity.” I think that’s totally subjective. I’ve always been a student of music, a student of the piano, and I genuinely enjoy playing the instrument and connecting with people. I care about the music I play, and I want to enjoy it as much as I want other people to enjoy it. For me, everything comes from a place of passion and respect for the music.
And, lastly, from Studio Jams:
Who were some of your early influences?
Oscar Peterson was the first piano player that I fell in love with. I love how he speaks. I love how he accents. And, of course, I love his facility on the piano. Chick Corea is someone I admire as well. Bill Evans was another piano player I enjoyed as a kid. And, of course, Bud Powell. Everybody is inspired by their heroes. But the end goal is when somebody comes up with a certain style and they stick to it and that’s them. That’s what makes me happy.
Do you think you can actually teach improvisation?
I think anyone can learn how to improvise. It’s almost like saying a question “can somebody learn a second language?” It’s totally possible. Jazz has a certain vocabulary that many musicians are familiar with. They come from certain familiar sources and those pieces of vocabulary come together in each musician and then the musician will expand the vocabulary for his own use and he will introduce certain “mannerisms” and just general “isms” that are individual to that particular player. So that’s the reason the language can be shared. The language has rhythmic aspects that will be mutual, plus melodic and harmonic aspects. Once those things are in place, music is not much different than speaking a language. There are things that can be pretty…that can be clever, that can be sad, that can be happy, that can be humorous. Musicians that understand the language can connect to those expressions easily.
How do you feel about Jam Sessions?
There are a lot of people that don’t go to jam sessions…even some well-known artists who might be, for whatever reason, reluctant to do it. I’ve always participated in jam sessions since I was a kid because I like the interaction and it forces you into an seemingly uncomfortable situation. It’s actually very comfortable when the musicians are good. In fact, last night I went to a jam session here in Philly because I wanted to socialize with musicians and I wanted to hear the music.
Music is so social by nature and one of the things that I’ve always found is that whenever a group comes together and when they make good music together, 9 out of 10 times they are going to be friends. It’s very rare to find two musicians, or three musicians if it’s a trio, making good music together and they’re not close to each other. And I mean close can simply be the points of view that are very similar. It’s the most basic feeling of how somebody interprets and perceives your rhythm. It begins there…how your sense of time is aligned for the other person. It’s the first thing that will develop and determine whether musicians are going to continue making music. It’s all very cool…and, in a sense, spiritual.
And here’s a taste of what he’s all about:
He plays at The Josephine Saturday December 3 with Bill Horist. His discography is voluminous and varied. Check out this recent track from a record that came out of Japan with Jim O’Rourke and Akira Sakata:
Akira Sakata & Jim O'Rourke w/ Chikamorachi - Hanamaki (excerpt) by familyvineyard
Or there’s this, from On Fillmore, his collaboration with Glenn Kotche:
Got to chat with him about these collaborations as well as general musings on improved music, the state of the record industry in 2011, “a sloth going down the tar pits” and more.
What brings you to Seattle?
Robert Inwanik’s band, Alchimia, played at The Chapel Performance Space, and invited me out. I’ve known Robert for about 10 years, met him when he came out from Poland. His old band, Rope, was my favorite band. They are an amazing band. I played with them a lot, solo opened for them. I have another group, On Fillmore, that played with them. So we got really close. I’d probably seen Rope 20 – 25 times and everytime, awesome. That’s hard to say about most bands.
So, he asked me if I wanted to come out and play in their first show and I said yeah.
And tomorrow you play with Bill Horist at The Josephine.
Yes. I’ve never played with Bill, so it should be exciting. We have a mutual friend named Chris Corsano, one of my best friends, a drummer I play with as a duo in Chikamorachi.
The Josephine is a cool venue, if you can even call it that. They float on an interesting line between being a public and semi-private place.
I’m excited to play there. It was The Sun City Girls practice space and I’m a huge fan of theirs. Apparently, they lived there.
So when play with someone you haven’t played with, how do you have a reference for what to do?
It varies from person to person. My preference is to not talk at all about what we are going to play beforehand about the music we are going to make. So, the honest answer is that there is no reference point. Although in the improvised music scene, it has been happening for so long, that you hope there is a reference point. You hope that the person you are going to play with is cool. Which I’m sure Bill will be. And now a days, you have their records or you can listen to what they do. It is a little different for me because I do so many different things. So it may be harder for someone else to get a reference point to play with me. Really, I don’t think there is a reference point. Just trust. And hope.
The more I listen to improvised music, it seems like a conversation between musicians, at its best.
Yeah it is. Although something that might be dangerous in it just being conversational is that can be too polite. “How are you?” and then the person answers back and forth, where real conversations with your friends are a mess. The English is a wreck, you are interrupting each other, and that to me, that more honest conversation, is more interesting to me when you are playing music than polite conversation. That’s the danger when you don’t know people.
It’s like a first date.
Yeah, exactly. Because you are trying to put your best foot forward, you are trying to play your best stuff, but that doesn’t always make the best music. The catch is getting comfortable, in any situation. You don’t get better at improvising. I’m no better than when I first started. But I’m more comfortable failing, I’m more comfortable in those awkward moments, to just let it be awkward. Like after that first date, the person knows you are a wreck, you leave the dishes out, whatever it is. You are a mess! And they are okay with that. Or not. That to me makes more interesting music. And it is more interesting for the listener too than some polite back and forth thing.
Do you think there’s a correlation between improvised music and improv theater? As I listen to you talk, it reminds me of the difference between good and bad improv, especially comedy.
Absolutely. It is the same thing. All the arts are so interconnected. They have to be.
When it is funny is when there’s tension. And when you go as an audience member, you are aware that people are taking risks and you grant them that right.
I’m surprised that more people don’t go to improvised music or theater. I’m not naïve about it, but I’m shocked. It’s a small audience. I’m surprised because it something you can’t get anywhere else. That night is just for you. It won’t ever happen again. As a listener, you go home knowing wow that concert was just for me. A unique moment. That’s exciting.
I have to ask you about Jim O’Rourke, who I am a huge fan of, especially those records from the nineties. He seems to have left the compositional world and entered the improvised world from his more recent work.
I’ve known Jim forever, along with Glenn Kotche. We’re all best friends. Realize Jim came from improvised music. when he was a teenager, he was going to Europe and improvising with Derek Bailey, who, to me, is the greatest. But people really started hearing about Jim when he made those Drag City records. So they don’t know the back part of it, that he was composing but also improving from the start. Complex guy. He’s been doing that stuff since he was a little kid. Lately he has released a lot more improvised stuff. He may be working on some more compositional stuff, I’m not positive. I’ve released a ton of improvised records with him recently. I’m a huge fan of all of his work. I played bass on Eureka, Halfway to a Threeway, Insignificance. We had a group called Brise-Glace in the early 90s. I was lucky because in Chicago he produced a lot of records and he asked me to play bass on them. Mainly Drag City artists.
Did you see that The Sea and Cake is playing tonight, speaking of Chicago bands. They are part of the avant pop music that was coming out of Chicago in the 90s.
Yeah, a great time in music. It is still happening there, especially in jazz and improvised music. I don’t think it gets the critical attention it used to get.
That makes me want to ask you about Japan. Jim O’Rourke is now in Japan. You have a Japan connection. Japan always seems to take things out of the West and then amplify them. What’s your take on Japan.
I will tell you that Japan is my favorite place in the world: the people, the food, the music, the terrain. I’m lucky that I go there at least once a year, sometimes twice a year. I’ve toured the whole country and feel very lucky to have gotten to do that. Most people don’t get to do that. It’s very humbling. It is very different there. I’m not sure I agree that they amplify it. I’m not sure what exactly they do. But they know a lot about music. They focus in on things that boggle my mind. The people that come to my shows there know every record I’ve ever made. They know who produced it, who recorded, what year it was recorded, who played on it, all the names of the songs. They know more than I know! They know everything about it. That kind of dedication is inspiring.
And when they go to a live show, it is serious business. They aren’t joking around. At a live show, they are usually sitting or standing motionless. Sometimes, I can hardly tell if they are breathing! When you first experience that, you think you’ve played the worst show of your life and they hate you. And then afterward, they want to meet you and they are so excited and want to talk about records. I love it there. Lately, since about 2005, I’ve been doing free jazz concerts with the great Akira Sakata, my mentor and hero. I could go on about that man for hours. I encourage everyone to find out what they can about him. He’s obscure here and not as well known outside of Japan. But he’s a marine biologist, an actor, he’s had tv shows, he’s a great jazz artist, one of the founders of free jazz in Japan. The guy is fascinating. I play with him, Chris Corsano and Jim O’Rourke in Japan; outside of Japan, it is a trio because Jim won’t leave Japan. I’ve had the best times of my life there in Japan. I also toured Eureka with Jim O’Rourke there in the 90s.
I love that record! I was just listening to it. It is amazing; it goes all over the place.
Yes, I love it too. It is a beautiful crazy record. We toured it there and it was kind of a similar experience, playing pop and free jazz. They just love music so much. It is great for a musician. I mean, a lot of people love music in the states, but it is just different there. It’s like when you and your friends get together to talk about music or theater or film or whatever and there’s four of you; over there, it’s like there’s 200. There’s more of it and so much enthusiasm.
The other thing that’s interesting there too is that, of course, it needs to make money, but it isn’t so based on money. They figure out ways to make it happen. I mean, ticket sales don’t pay for Chris Corsano and my plane ticket over there. So through funding, private donations, on and on, they figure out a way to make it happen. A magazine, a club and a label might bring you over, not just a promoter.
On that idea of making money, here we are in 2011. What are your thoughts on how musicians make a living in this era where everything is downloadable and often free. How do you do it?
Well, the easy answer is that it is a combination of lots of things. But the more difficult answer is that no one knows at this point. Everyone is scrambling to figure it out. For me personally, I’ve never paid a bill off of record sales. My whole life. And I’ve been making records since the 80s. So the collapse of the record industry does affect me as much as many of my close friends and people that I work with. Ultimately, it affects us all, but as far as making a living, it doesn’t affect me personally just yet. I do things like teach, so I supplement with that. It’s an interesting time. It can be looked at a lot of ways. I choose to not just look at it in a negative way. Something is collapsing; something is disappearing. But at the same time, something became huge.
I just saw Hugo, the new film by Martin Scorsesee, which is partly about the collapse of the silent film industry. And there are parallels to where we are now, both with film and music. The recorded medium of music is changing.
I appreciate that you aren’t looking at in a binary, black and white way. It’s complicated.
Well for example, I love albums. I grew up on albums and I love listening to them from beginning to the end. And I don’t know if that even exists for many people now. But it exists for me. And I’m going to keep making albums. It’s what I do. And if I’m a giant sloth going down in the tar pits, I guess I’m gonna go down the tar pits. And I’m not going to stop.
A lot of people are bummed out about it. But I think we’ll figure it out.
Well, the internet is a Pandora’s box that’s been opened and there’s no way to shut it. It’s changed everything for the good and the bad.
Right. People have heard things that I’ve played on that they never, ever would have heard otherwise. I would love it if I got paid for that and got money and was able to live a better life. However, who is to say how it will all pan out in the long run. Who’s to say someone won’t fly me to Peru to play because they heard me on the internet and got some funding. Who’s to say? It can happen and has happened.
You know, I managed a record store and I worked there right when CDs were coming in. And the same conversations were happening then. It was the death of vinyl. And obviously that didn’t happen. Here’s vinyl now outselling some CDs now. And it reminds of when synthesizers became affordable. And when they came in, everyone was going to be put out of work. No more drummers, no more real musicians, no more bass players. It is going make everything obsolete. And obviously it didn’t do that.
So I hold hopes. I have to.
She’s playing in Seattle at The Mix on Saturday Nov 9th. Got a chance to catch up with her and chat about the production on the new record, Bright and Vivid (which is gorgeous), social media, music lessons and more. Although forgot to ask her what the story is with the feline in the pic below…
How’s life on the road?
Going pretty good. We just pulled into Idaho. We are on our way back to the West Coast. We were in Salt Lake City today.
I heard your van broke down. I guess it wouldn’t be a tour if something like that didn’t happen.
Yes, it was the classic van tour moment. We were actually really lucky because we’d been driving through nothing, just landscape, a gas station every 200 miles, somewhere outside Palm Springs. And the van just suddenly started losing power. We were right by an exit, which was right by a gas station, which was a mile away from a mechanic. So we spent the night at the Comfort Inn. Which was too bad because we were supposed to stay at this really cool place called the Hicksville Trailer Palace, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of Joshua Tree. I don’t actual know where it is because they don’t tell you the address until you book. We were supposed to spend the night there but it didn’t happen. But it could have been a lot worse.
Well if your car breaks down by the exit, I’d say you were pretty lucky. So, I knew about your car breaking down because I saw your tweet. What do you think of social media? Is it a chore or do you enjoy it? Or is it just part of being an artist in 2011?
It’s interesting. It doesn’t come naturally because I didn’t grow up with it. I was born before the internet came to people’s houses. But it is incredibly valuable if you know how to wield it. It gives you a direct relationship with the people who love your music and that is incredibly valuable to me. I like getting to know the fans. And it is really practical. If someone has a problem, they can come directly to me. If someone doesn’t know the set time or where we are playing. Obviously if I was Madonna people wouldn’t be getting the set times from me, but as it is now it takes out any middle man.
I’ve been following Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, who are hilarious. Plus they use it as a platform, retweeting, etc.
Yes, and everyone has their own style. And she’s definitely got her style which is cool because she only came to it six or eight months ago.
Congratulations on the new record. It sounds great.
Thank you very much.
So here’s a question. I got the record on Amazon so I didn’t get any liner notes about who produced it and where it was recorded. I read online that Colin Stewart produced your last album in your house. Who produced this record? The production is amazing.
Same producer, Colin Stewart.
Oh okay. But it was in a studio this time?
No, in the living room again.
Really? It sounds so different than the first record in terms of production.
The first record was done 3-4 years ago and finished in 2008. So now it’s 2011, almost 2012. What we wanted for this new record was to take it further. Are You My Mother was my first record and with it came all the trials of a first record. While I have experience recording with other bands and making records, but never fully with me at the helm. So with Bright and Vivid we trying to go for more and I’m glad we succeeded.
Can I ask some more geeky production questions? Tape Op style?
Sure – I know Tape Op.
So what DAT were you using? How did you do some of the drum loops?
He was using ProTools. We had a super powerful computer with a bunch of software. That’s a side that I really left a lot to him [Colin Stewart]. I told him what I wanted it to sound like and he would go about it. Like on “1-2-3” there’s this underlying wash that goes underneath the whole song. That started out as me playing a note on a guitar that he added a whole bunch of effects to. And it sounded cool so we were like let’s use that. He’s definitely a collaborator on the record and it wouldn’t have sounded anything like it does if he hadn’t been involved.
I love the song “All The Things.” There’s a lot going on there. And then the way it fades right into “The Right Book,” really cool.
Yeah, that song, we had a lot of help from my friend Dean Tzenos. He is a Toronto based musician and has his own project called Adonos. We gave him that song when it was half done and he took it away and it came back mostly the way it is. That was neat for me. It’s great to have people that you really trust who you can give songs to who can add their creativity to it and have it come back different than when you left it. He’s really good with drum programming and he’s a great guitarist and he has a great sense of melody. So he was perfect for working with that song. The end sort of dissolves with all this noisy guitar. A crazy end and outro.
I’m excited to see you guys live. How is it playing these songs live, which have such a studio sound to them?
It’s a real challenge, let me tell you. There’s only four of us live and some of the songs we weren’t even going to try. Like with “All The Things” I think without a string section and 8 guitars and drum machines, there’s no way. So I left some songs alone as songs crafted for the studio. But other songs we’ve translated to a live performance, paring down things to their basics. I also have a keyboard with a lot of samples that I play from the record. The other thing of course is people don’t come to a show expecting to hear the song exactly from the record. You kind of want a different experience. It’s cool if you can play the record as is but it is fine if it is different. It doesn’t have to be the record; it just has to be a good live show.
I think I read somewhere you are playing guitar at the live shows? How’s that going?
Yeah, it’s going good. I usually write my songs on the guitar. And out of necessity, I thought it would be easier for me to play guitar than try to find somebody who wasn’t already in other bands. And I love the guitar.
Another I read was you talking about taking lessons. Which I really appreciated and gratifying to hear from a professional musician. Yeah, people take lessons. I thought it was a good thing to hear.
I like taking lessons. I think it’s because I get a lot further a lot faster if someone just shows me how to do it and if I have deadlines and things to practice. Yeah, there’s lots of stuff like practicing and lessons and all the behind the scenes stuff that goes on that people don’t see.
In this era of Guitar Hero and what not, people forget that if you want to be a musician you have to practice, do your scales and maybe take lessons.
A lot of musicians are self taught. And that’s one way to do it. But you have to be incredibly self motivated. And while I’m self motivated, I find it faster if I sit down with someone and they show me how to play it. “Oh, that makes sense.” Whereas if I tried to sit down and figure it out myself it would take forever.
So it’s a more efficient use of your time.
And you have another mind. You learn to play things a different way because someone else is different. It is the same as when you try to play someone else’s song, like a cover song. Playing other people’s songs is important because you learn how somebody else thinks.
Anybody else’s songs you’ve been playing recently that you’ve found inspiring?
Now that I said that I can’t think of any!
I just learned Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield and it has this great switch in the middle where it modulates to the fourth and I realized that’s why I love that song, that’s the hook.
There’s a lot of Paul Simon songs that are deceptive in how simple they sound. And then you try to play them and they are missing a bar or changing time signatures. It’s neat to hear a song and think it is easy to play and then find out how complex it is when you go to play it.
Infected Mushroom (check out crazy Adobe Flash mechano-shrooms on their website!) are part of the rave jamboree that is Freaknight this weekend in Seattle. Got a chance to ask them a few questions:
1. What buzzword term do you feel most aligned with: psybient? psydub? psychedelic trance? something else?
2. How do you balance tension between conforming to a genre and pushing a genre?
Well, you don’t. You just do what you do. The natural evolution of what you do is hopefully a “pushing” of the genre. The only question is whether dance floors will like it and fortunately for us, they have.
3. You've been doing a lot of collaborations lately. Can you talk a little about some of the folks you've worked with and how's that's gone?
We have been really fortunate to work with some of the people who have influenced us the most. Paul Oakenfold, of course, was a big help to us on the last album. He also did a remix for us. We also worked with Jonathan Davis from Korn who did vocals on Smashing the Opponent, as well as Perry Ferrell from Jane’s Addiction, who did the vocals for Killing Time.Besides the album, we have been working with Matisyahu a lot lately. Our remix of his track One Day was number one in Israel. We look forward to many more cool collaborations in the future.
4. How does your classical training influence your compositions?
Well it is clear. Our tracks make reference to a lot of cool scales and melodies ;)
5. Looks like you are on the road a lot --- what do you usually do between shows?
With the family (we both have little babies), and we work in the studio at night! Not too much spare time on our hands.
6. Have you played Seattle before? If so, when and where? And what are you impressions of our city?
Oh yes, many times. We love Seattle – ALWAYS a good party. Besides that, a beautiful city!
7. Facebook or MySpace?
8. Apple or Microsoft?
Depends which one of us you ask ;) We produce music on a PC, but we both like Mac accessories.
9. SMS or email?
They both serve a purpose.
10. Blogs or magazines?
11. Nature or culture?
Not sure what you mean by this, but I’d have to say a little from “column A” and a little from “column B.”
Hermit Thrushes played 2020 Cycles on Sunday. Got a chance to chat with Yianni (guitarist and principle song writer) and Charlie (bassist) at Piecora’s before the show. Kinda wished I left the mic running the whole time, ‘cause there was some funny off-the-record shit – their upcoming tour stop in Tijuana, Cubs vs. Phillies, flipping cars, setting them on fire . As it is, the stuff that did make the tape is great, as we get into what Hermit Thrushes are doing musically, which is a pretty damn interesting endeavor. Their show later that night was completing captivating, as they played amidst the bicycles to a lucky crowd of maybe 30 people. This is a band on its game, pushing the limits, at once intellectual and passionate.
In the interview, Yianni did most of the talking; Charlie chimed in here and there.
So you guys are on tour. How’s the tour going?
Really well. It’s easy to think that the world hates you on certain tours. That was our last tour. And this tour, it feels like there is a benevolent higher power that’s orchestrated all of the aspects of the tour, somebody that we are going to have to make lots of sacrifices to.
Any good tour anecdotes?
So it’s just been a blur of benevolence?
Yeah, it’s been a bliss blur.
Charlie: There was that time we played a cool show with our friends. And that other time we played a cool show with our friends. And another time…
Yeah, the tour has tended to be various DIY spaces, warehouses, sometimes college shows where someone sneaky has managed to secure a large sum of money for us. We do play clubs and bars too.
I was reading TapeOp this morning and there’s an interview with Brian Eno. And he goes on this rant about music that’s anti-intellectual, those “who distrust intellect and think that it necessarily dilutes and ruins serious, passionate art.” And I’ve been listening to your records and your music definitely strikes me as demanding the intellect. What do you think of Eno’s comment?
I don’t think there’s a problem in either direction. There doesn’t need to be a disconnect between passionate music and intellectual music. It’s a weird fallacy though when some people seem to think knowledge of music theory interrupts the flow of passion into the music. And there’s the opposite: people who think that in order to express yourself you have to learn how sounds correlate to one another. It’s such a bogus thing to want to have a strict binary. There’s clearly so much diversity of inspiration and output in the world of music. There’s clearly people making equally valid music in either direction or the hybrid of the two.
Well, I guess the reason Eno’s quote jumped out at me in relation to your music is that it doesn’t conform to a genre. So often, the ear is tuned to hear a genre. And its easy to be passionate inside the form of a genre. “Now I’m singing the blues.” Whereas your stuff, it goes all kinds of places.
It’s easy to understand why genres exist, but it is really frustrating to have people try to force that on you. What I find disappointing about the world of music is that people generally have a tough time approaching something without a clear context for it and a set of expectations for what they are listening to. So if you don’t easily fall into a genre, there seems to be some kind of alienation that occurs. People turn off their ability to take in new music. There are tons of people doing really interesting, bizarre things that are both passionate and intellectual but they are written off because people can’t place it.
Are you guys consciously trying to not be in a genre? Or is just what comes out?
Yeah, its more that – just want comes out. There’s no conscious act of rebellion. There’s no protest or rebellious purpose. It’s not supposed to be different for the sake of being different. It’s a crime against individuality to approach song writing and think I am part of the blues, I am part of rock music, I am part of electronic music. There are so many different ways to make sounds, why the fuck would you ever just want to be a rock band.
Well, because its easy.
Charlie: That’s a telling thing this day. It does take work, contemplation of what you are doing and where you want to go with something. How do you feel?
I just feel its negligent creativity.
Charlie: I feel like it is hard to be honest with yourself and go with what happens instead of following pre-formatted structures. “This is going to be the verse. This is the chorus.”
It’s not an extreme notion really. Other art forms have it easier, where you can go in a different direction and not be part of a movement that provides context for your output. Whereas in music there are a really stifling set of boundaries that people want to have to apply to new music that they hear.
Often times, it seems to me like Hermit Thrushes’ songs tease with the idea that this is the verse, this is the chrorus, but then the verse goes away. You think you are going to get the A part again? No, you’re not. Your songs seem to go on a journey instead of a fit sense of structure. But there is structure there…
I think I just have a short attention span. (Laughes.) It is nothing more herioc than that. There are tons of ways to make a song. Countless people have mocked the pop formula. And I don’t think we are mocking it. We just desire not to be a part of it. There’s an awesome Residents album called The Commercial Album that is pop distilled to its basic virtues and that’s one of the coolest takes on pop music. All you need is 1 verse and 1 chorus and your are done.
Charlie: When you are writing stuff, does that even come to mind.
Like I said, I feel bored a lot if something happens too much.
Well, your records take you on a journey, the way the songs are ordered and what not. Do you think of your records as compositions?
Yeah, generally. The music is all composed around the same time, or if they aren’t, songs are put away until they are appropriate. The song order is very important to us. The way things piece together are important.
Again, in this Brian Eno interview, he gets into different art forms impacting music and how, in the sixties, musicians didn’t get how albums could be like paintings, where you add layers, remove stuff, put together a composition as opposed to just recording a live performance. How much do you guys experiment in the studio and do post production?
That keeps me up at night, the idea that a recording doesn’t necessarily have to be what you do in the real world. It can be frustrating, because you don’t want the recording to be in no way what you do live, but if you neglect to recognize the creative potential in the studio or in your bedroom or where ever you are recording, it is a shame., because it is another way of expressing yourself and giving songs texture.
Live and recorded are very different.
Charlie: It is exciting for us to do both. Sometimes our recordings and our live stuff don’t sound at all alike. Pretty much the notes are the same, but we don’t a piccolo or a bass clarinet. And things are louder. A lot of people react positively, but it alienates people who are looking for what they heard on the album.
Well, I don’t expect for a band to sound the same live and recorded.
It would be painfully boring if a band sounded the same live and recorded.
Charlie: But we don't want to disappoint anyone.
I’m happy to disappoint people.
Well, how do you record?
On Mystery Ocean, about half of it was home recorded, in my bedroom, in the bathroom, in the basement.
A healthy mixture of the two. We used a lot of home made microphones and home made effects, crude rudimentary effects like wrapping a microphone in paper or putting a cone around it. We recorded the other half with Daniel Smith from Danielson Family in a studio. Even then, we took the basic tracks we did with him and took them home and added overdubs. So its not lo-fi or hi-fi but some middle ground. Like mid-fi. Then it was mastered by Josh Benatti from New York. He plays in a band called Big A Little A that’s a noisy drum and electronics group. He has a good ear for noise music and normal music, a good diverse palette and learned mastering from awesome engineers.
A lot of the art is by Emily Royer.
Yes, she’s a great friend of ours and an amazing Philidelphia area painter. She’s brilliant. I basically will ramble at her about what the album means to me and never ever can I say what I want visually but I’ll give her the feeling of the album and she just magically transforms it into something we all uninanimoulsly agree to be appropriate, almost chillingly so.
Charlie: And it fits album to album. There’s clearly a progression. It’s scary how well she gets it and what we are going for. We are lucky to know her.