Thursday, May 29, 2014

Interview with Liz Panella of Earth Girls

It's not an original thought, but it's accurate - Earth Girls are a great summer band. Combining a punk ethos with take-up-lodging-in-your-head hooks is a surefire way to ensure warm-weather-rockin. Bands like the Marked Men, Mind Spiders, the Exploding Hearts, and the Ergs are always be easier to reach for when the sun's out. Earth Girls continues the tradition of dead-aim pop-punk.

I've gotten to see the band a couple of times, including their first show at the Engine House in Chicago, as well as their show with Cracked Vessel at the Mothball. Earth Girls shows are as fun as expected - it's impossible not to dance (or at least headbob) - I found myself smiling like a dog being fed. The band has a few dates coming up, including a show tonight with Swearin', that you can check out on their Facebook Page.

I got to catch up with Liz Panella (Libyans, Broken Prayer, Siamese Twins) about Earth Girls, in which she is queen songwriter. I had previously seen her as a solo performer, which is when I got an idea that she wrote pop songs, but I was used to her more hardcore project. Make no mistake - Liz writes incredible pop songs. The Demo that Earth Girls just released is the definition of "all killer, no filler" and is totally essential for Summer 2014.

Jordan: Where did the name Earth Girls come from? I primarily think of that old flick Earth Girls Are Easy, but I have no idea if that had any influence.

Liz: We just thought it sounded cool. Joey came up with it. The Earth Girls Are Easy jokes are inevitable and never-ending, and I guess we deserved that.

J: I only personally know you and Joey in Earth Girls and you guys have been in some great bands like Libyans, Broken Prayer, and Boilerman. How about the other members? Have they been playing in bands for a while?

L: Jeff Rice is our other permanent member, as we've had a revolving cast of second guitarists. Jeff has been in a million bands, including Ottawa, Punch in the Face, Daylight Robbery, etc etc. He was also in a band with Andrew WK at some point in the 90s. He still plays Andrew's drums. 

J: How did you guys decide to make Earth Girls, a much more pop-song oriented outfit than some of your other bands?

L: Earth Girls is a more pop-song oriented band because I'm the one that writes the songs. Every band I've been primary songwriter for has been poppy as fuck. I love hardcore but I suck at writing anything other than gooey pop songs. Luckily I think I'm pretty decent at writing gooey pop songs, so that's what I give to the world. 

J: You guys kind of started out with a bang - playing a bunch of shows and opening for Swearin' and Radioactivity soon. Do you think that there is more importance to playing live than having a recording?

L: I think it depends. For this band in particular, the recordings have been more important at the get go, because we posted the demo online before we'd played a show. In the age of the internet, I think the majority of bands get their initial exposure through recordings. This is the opposite of how it was when I got into punk, when touring constantly was the only way to ensure that people would hear your band. I don't mean to downplay the importance of playing live however. If a band totally sucks live, people aren't going to like their recordings as much. I think the difference between a good band and a great band is the ability to both write excellent songs AND be able to totally sell them in a live setting. 

J: When did you guys begin writing and recording songs for the Earth Girls cassette? Do you primarily write the songs?

L: We've been practicing with the current line up since early 2013. I attempted several incarnations of this band before the current one stuck. Joey was in Embarrassed Teens with me as well in 2011, and a few of the Earth Girls songs are left over from that band. I write all the songs. I'm a total dictator. 

J: You also have a 7" coming up on Grave Mistake, correct? What was the process of writing, recording and teaming with Grave Mistake?

L: We recorded the demo and 7" at the same time. I was going to self-release the record, but when Alex heard the demo he offered to put it out. We've known each other for about a decade and this is the first time we've worked together so I'm very excited about it. 

J: I also heard you guys are already writing songs with an LP in mind? Pardon my brusqueness, but how are you writing so many songs so quickly? Are there any duds that you have to cast off?

L: I'm never not thinking about music. I sing to myself when I'm riding my bike and record voice memos on my phone constantly. I'll have productive bursts where I'll write 2 or 3 songs in a week sometimes. There are always castoffs. Our songs are relatively simple but I actually spend a lot of time on each one, making sure the structure is exactly right. If I can't get a song idea to fill out as I want it, I'll throw the ideas away, or sometimes set them aside for revisiting in the future. I like to think that this band doesn't have any filler. If our songs aren't catchy enough to get stuck in my head, why would anyone else want to listen to them?

J: I know you guys are playing with Swearin' at the Sub T soon, and then with Radioactivity and again with Night Birds. Are there any other shows you're particularly excited for?

L: Obviously we're very excited about these shows. We're also playing Dumb Fest in Springfield in mid-June. We're going out to Western Mass to record with Will Dandy in July, and will play a few shows on the way home. 

J: What's in the future for Earth Girls?

L: In a perfect world, I'd do this band full time. As you mentioned, we're working on an LP and will tour to support it. 

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

L: Totally off subject: I'm involved in opening an all ages show space called Pure Joy, and I'm very excited about it. We're looking for volunteers in Chicago, so if anyone wants to volunteer, email Thanks!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Interview with Black Monolith

Passenger by Black Monolith is an inspired piece of epic sounds from the heavier end of the music spectrum. The one-man band from Oakland, CA had previously put out a digital demo release on Bandcamp in 2011, but hadn't released anything else until recently when Passenger came out on Derek Prine & George Clarke's (of Deafheaven) new record label All Black Recording Company. In my opinion, the label struck gold when they decided to put out Passenger - I can listen to Passenger when I run, drive to work, clean my guinea pig's cage, or really do anything.

The songs range from a blackened d-beat sound to black metal to post-rock. Gary, rather effortlessly, melds many styles of music together into one cohesive collection. This feat of songwriting, coupled with the single-handed nature of being in a one-man band, makes for something staggeringly impressive, which seems to only emphasize the pairing of the name "Black Monolith" with the music.

This album will surely make my year-end list and is well worth the price of admission. You can pick up the album and a beautiful t-shirt from the band's bandcamp page. The band has not yet planned any sort of tour or live date, so purchasing the album or a t-shirt is the best way to support great music!

Jordan: The name Black Monolith makes me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is actually my all-time favorite movie. How did you decide on the name? Did Stanley Kubrick have anything to do with it?

Gary: Absolutely. I love Kubrick’s work and Space Odyssey is one of my favorite films as well. The black monolith, or TMA, in the film was always really interesting to me; as far as what it stood for and it’s role in the movie. When deciding on what to call my project, it was the only name that made sense. I never considered anything else.

J: Your music is a great amalgamation of punk, hardcore, black metal, post-rock, and more. How did you arrive at your sound?

G: I never set out to create a new sound. I have always gravitated more towards heavier music but have been greatly influenced by all sorts of genres. It has been satisfying for me to incorporate most of what I like into my music. If done well I think that many different genres can work together and often share similar characteristics even when they do not share the same family tree. It’s really a balancing act of putting my favorite parts together and it just comes out this way.

J: Similarly, how do you write your songs? Do you have to write out all the parts before you go into recording?

G: It usually starts with a riff or some chord progression. Over time I’ll build on the skeleton; adding drums, doubling guitar tracks, bass and vocals last. There is a lot of improvisation. Everything is recorded at my home,by myself. So I have a lot of freedom to lay things down on the spot and I’m able to work on my songs all at once. The lyrics start with words, phrases, or just a rhythm of vocal sounds that unconsciously pop into my head. They are almost never written beforehand. After hearing the song an exhausting amount of time, I start the mixing process.

J: Do you play live at all? How would you play a show as a one-man band?

G: Not currently. If I ever decided to take Black Monolith on the road I would prefer to have a full live band as opposed to a computer.

J: Before Passenger came out, you had released a 3-song EP in 2011. Did you put it out as a physical release at some point or was it just a digital release?

G: It was only released as a free digital download on Bandcamp. Never had any plans for a physical release.

J: The song "Dead Hand" appears on your demo as well as Passenger. Did many of the songs on Passenger come from that time?

G: Half of the album was written between 2011-2012 and the other half was written in 2013.

J: How is it being the first release on All Black Recording Company?

G: I can't thank them enough for trusting my work and putting the time and effort into releasing the record. 

J: Are there any projects you have been listening to lately that you'd recommend to people reading this?

G: WTF with Marc Maron is all i’ve been listening to lately.

J: What all is in the future for Black Monolith?

G: There’s a 7” in the works that will hopefully be released this winter. 

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

G: Thank you to everyone who has supported Black Monolith.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Interview with Scout Paré-Phillips

Gram Parsons created the term "Cosmic American Music" to describe his melding of country, folk, rock, soul, and rhythm & blues in the 60s. People don't use the term as much, but I think it's a much more interesting take on genre naming by getting at geographical genesis. To this day, "cosmic" kind of throws me off in that description, but you can't really hold back Gram Parsons (or his friends in pursuit of a "proper" cremation.) It's an interesting idea though - the individual parts of "Cosmic American Music" by and large are American forms of music. Though at a first listen, Scout Paré-Phillips' band The Sterling Sisters may sonically have more in common with Cosmic American Music, her solo music is also influenced by its many parts.

Scout's music shares a lot of resonance with American folk artists like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. I had a very vivid first thought when I heard Scout. Have you ever seen that Bob Dylan movie Don't Look Back? Well, there's this scene where Joan Baez is showing the extent of her range after the merry band of folk musicians have smoked too much weed. It's one of my few references for such a high note. Scout's tutored vocal talent as an operatic master is all but readily apparent, and a more than welcome addition to the folk music being made in our day and age. Scout's vocal duties paired with her autoharp (a totally underused instrument) and guitar make for some more than compelling music.

You know how Plato had that belief where both forms and material are needed to make things? There's a similar system in music. To be a full-package, you need to be able to create forms of songs (songwriting) but also have material (talent) to fill them in. Scout has both sides of this equation. The songs on her solo seven-inch are not only emphasize her vocal abilities, but they linger - they carve a small pocket out of brain grooves and settle in for the long haul.

So far, Scout has released a solo Seven-Inch Record on Pesanta Urfolk, though she has plans to release both a seven-inch and a full-length album on Not Just Religious Music later this year. As mentioned above, Scout is in the fantastic dark-country group The Sterling Sisters who put out a great album called Hale on Pesanta Urfolk as well, which is more than worthy of checking out. You'd think with two music projects, there's not much time left in the day, though Scout manages to do a lot more, which is detailed on her Website. 

Jordan: In your interview with Renee Ruin, you begin by talking about living a lot "in a tiny log cabin on an acre of land near Albany, New York." It's a very vivid image. What was living in such a place like? Does it affect your work?

Scout: I think that it not so much affected my work, but the person I became. Growing up in a pea patch covered in dirt while your father hunted for deer and your mother worked in the garden was a pretty beautiful thing. I'm thankful to both of my parents for allowing me to have that experience and awareness from a young age, rather than merely being raised as a through-and-through "New Yorker". I still want to move back to the woods to raise my family, one day.

J: In my recent interview with TJ from King Dude, he mentions you being a bit of a dog lover, which is awesome. What role have dogs played in your life? What do you like about them?

S: Dogs have always been omnipresent in my life. When I was extremely young, my parents and I bred our Jack Russell Terrier and raised a litter of puppies. They were always crawling around, and all the puppies stayed within the family. I still have one of those Jack Russells, named Digger by a very cunning toddler Scout. I just recently adopted a female Whippet, who is giving the ancient Russell a run for his money. So I guess it's official: if you want to be welcomed into the Not Just Religious Music family, you Must Love Dogs.

J: The Sterling Sisters album Hale, which is a fantastic album by the way, has a bit of a Cosmic Country Western feel to it for me. What locations, events, ideas influenced the creation of this album?

S: That's really funny you say "cosmic". George - the singer from The Sterling Sisters - and I are laughing about that. I just did some guest vocals on the most recent Jack White record and a writer from Rolling Stone described my performance as cosmic. (George just sent me a picture of Spock playing an acoustic guitar…) George grew up in Denver, Colorado, and I am from New York, so those were two very different upbringings. We started The Sterling Sisters with the idea of having a "family band" being very important to us, although all of the members are from different cities. It is an amalgamation in that sense. The content of the songs has a lot to do with our different experiences growing up, and our current lives in the city which we met, Baltimore, Maryland. There are love songs and there are murder ballads, but all of the material was taken from our lives.

S: Of course George's father is Slim Cessna, and that is a very tall shadow to follow. We've always been very conscious of that influence as a band and touring with the Auto Club last summer was a really beautiful coming together. I think that was when we literally achieved the dream of feeling like a family band, if ever. The guys in the Auto Club -- and the Lupercalians -- are just so sweet. Munly is going to be working with Not Just Religious Music, soon, as well.

J: How did you guys write the music? Were there specific roles for you?

S: In the beginning, we would meet in George's living room -- this was back when almost no one in the band knew how to play their instruments -- and hum and strum things out. The first songs that was written was Raised You in the West. That set the tone for the rest of the songs to come. Now it's pretty different. George or I will come to practice with a complete song, or anyone in the room can start a riff that we'll develop as a band. Now that we have each been busy with our solo projects, The Sterling Sisters have had to take a rest, but we're hoping to write and record a new LP this summer and fall. George is self-releasing a solo album in the next few months.

J: Do you listen to much country music? Are there any artists that you like in particular?

S: My favorite artist of all time is Roy Orbison. If I had to name one vocal idol, it would be him. Obviously Orbison was not an opera singer, but in terms of modern music and me singing in a country western band, I have certainly heard the comparison a few times of me being like a "female Roy" because people don't know how to place me. I also get likened to a theramin a lot, which always makes me laugh.

J: You have a great voice, and a unique one at that. Have you always had a bit of an operatic voice? How do you practice singing? Is there any classical training in your background?

S: I have absolutely not always had an operatic voice, no one has! When I was very young and learning my first few guitar chords and how to sing a tune from my father, I sounded like just any other rock singer. I sang quite low, strained my voice, and achieved a gruff sound at best. As I got older and started writing more complex music and singing higher, at first it was a very breathy, weak voice, but was the first sign of where my real range laid. I trained for four years in my school's classical vocal program and for three years privately with an operatic vocal coach. The voice is like any other muscle; you just need to exercise it thoroughly and regularly for it to develop. Training is just a way to exercise it correctly and healthily, to ensure you don't do any damage along the way or force yourself to sound like something you're not. I'm in a masters program for teaching right now, and I firmly believe that anyone can "sing" if educated properly; it is not an innate talent like so many people like to believe.

J: There's a lot of play with angles and lines in your work from your haircut to your photography. What purpose does framing or placement play in your visual art, in terms of your appearance as well as your photography?

S: Well I can't do much about my genes! Some combination of French, Italian, Irish, and American Indian heritage landed me with a very angular bone structure and some pretty hefty eyebrows, ha. But there has always been a back and forth between the aesthetic in my visual work and my appearance that is deeper than simply using myself as a model. I think that every artist is naturally informed by their own appearance in a narcissistic way when developing their creative identity. People design their look, just as they design their work, and vice versa.

J: Do you have a favorite shape?

S: Circle.

J: Can you tell me a little bit about your photography series "Carne?" It highlights an interesting intersection of flesh, sex, pain, and beauty (to name a few lofty concepts). How did you think of creating it?

S: That series was a commission for a themed magazine by the New York fashion agency, Hunter and Gatti. (I say magazine, but really it's an over one hundred paged hardcover book). Carne -- meat -- was the concept for "HG Issue" #1. They contacted me after being drawn to my treatment of skin in another series of mine, Impressions. So in my work for that magazine I continued in the same vein, manipulating skin and impacting it, but in a much more carnal, consumable way. Also I've done a lot of growing up since Impressions, so my sexual identity is a lot more prominent in my work.

J: You have an upcoming 7" and LP on TJ Cowgill's label Not Just Religious Music. Can you tell me about how you guys got in contact?

S: I love TJ. Let's say that first. I met him in early 2012 when he played a show my boyfriend helped organize at Wierd Records night at Home Sweet Home in New York. I remember we gave him the first Sterling Sisters demo cassette back then because we thought he'd be into it, but that was before Not Just Religious Music started. Almost two years later, in late 2013, I got an email out of the blue after he saw the music video for my solo single, Fields of Ash. He told me about the beginnings of NJRM and the extremely select group of artists he was going to be working with and asked if I'd be interested. Of course I was honored and obliged. It was perfect timing for me.

J: How did you write and record the songs for your upcoming records?

S: With the exception of one or two songs, the dozen songs on this record were written in the proceeding months of the fall and winter of 2013, after first hearing from TJ. My relationship has been full of adversities over the past few years, but that fall was a particularly transitional time so I had a lot to process and songwriting is simply that to me: how I process my emotions. In that sense, I'm not much of a musician. Yes, I am fully capable of writing a 12 song LP in a few months, but no, generally I do not sit around writing songs or singing to myself. I've always said that when my life is going well and I'm content, I take photographs, but when I'm going through a rough patch and have some tribulations to work out, I write songs.

S: The album was recorded in just a few days by Sean Ragon from Cult of Youth at his studio & record shop, Heaven Street in Brooklyn. I don't know Sean very well and I was definitely apprehensive to record a full length record in five days, knowing my own studio methods (I will spend twelve hours on the vocal track to one song, if you let me)… But something certainly clicked between us. We cranked out the record in three days.

J: Any idea when they'll come out?

S: TJ & I are hoping to have a limited edition of the 7" out for the tour, and then the full length will follow sometime in the summer. They'll be released along with a series of four music videos in collaboration with the Canadian designer, Ovate by Audrey Cantwell. She is a genius and an angel. I am so happy to be working with her.

J: You're also set to tour with King Dude in Europe. Are there any places you're especially excited to see?

S: I'm really eager to see Copenhagen. We're friends with a lot of bands out there like Damien Dubrovnik/Lust for Youth, Puce Mary, Iceage… I'm really looking forward to hanging out with those kids on their native ground.

J: Do you think you'll tour the US soon?

S: We were originally planning to do another King Dude/Scout tour at the end of the summer in the US, but then TJ got the awesome offer to do the Ghost tour. So no plans for the moment. I'm sure when the LP comes out we'll throw something together.

J: What else is coming for Scout?

S: At the end of the Europe tour in Milan, I have a photography residency for a few weeks at Loppis Gallery. So I'll be creating a whole new body of work while I stay there and showing it at the end of June. Very excited for that.

My Interview with Harrison of Castle Danger

Castle Danger's newest album is the best one, in my opinion. It's a blatantly titled piece of work called I Feel Evil, with the description: "influenced by slint, suicide, swans, earth, pharmakon, and my own inner demons." Not only does Harrison name some of my favorite bands, but they are also good reference points, as the album begins with a high frequency, a mechanical bass loop, and a distortion-laden scream emphasizing "the urge to kill." So you know what's in store. This album seems to be the most personal Castle Danger release right off the bat and some of that has to do with the addition of lyrics on the first song. It also seems to externalize a lot of internal struggle for Harrison. I don't know if  it's my place to speak on those personal issues, but needless to say, I Feel Evil works as a sort of Picture of Dorian Gray.

This isn't to say that Castle Danger only makes music on the negative emotional register. In fact, the majority of his music is rather meditative and ambient. The first few Castle Danger releases were consistent companions to my reading as well as a means to dilute my anxiety. There's not a terrible amount of web presence for Castle Danger, which adds to the mystery. How can an individual with such a proficiency at the relaxing make such harrowing music as well?

In addition, Harrison has stated that he plans to release three full-length albums this year so keep your eye on the Castle Danger bandcamp page for music in the future!

Jordan: Harrison, what’s going on?

Harrison: Not a lot, just started working on some new music as a matter of fact.

J: Same kind of ambient stuff?

H: Yeah, I’m actually doing some interesting beat-based stuff more, but my workstation glitched out and shut down so I’ll have to rebuild it from scratch.

J: That sucks, dude.

H: It shouldn’t take all that long.

J: What program do you use to make music?

H: I use audacity and Acoustic Mixcraft because they were cheap. I really just make the best music I can with what I have.

J: How’s the move been to Seattle?

H: Seattle has been treating me very, very well. It was relatively painless actually and everything fit in my room. It was just really a futon, my piano, and a desk that was already here.

Sorry Carl But We'd Rather Destroy Ourselves Cover Art
J: Spartan living, I suppose.

H: Yeah

J: Have you gotten to go to any shows or seen any local flavor?

H: I actually haven’t been to see live music in a long while. The last show I think that I saw was Mount Erie in Madison. They were playing a free show at UW Madison. Afterwards I bought a shirt personally from Phil Elverum and we had a short conversation that I will always remember.

J: (laughs) Nice. So tell me a little bit about when you started music. I guess you’d been making music for a while, but started releasing music like last year?

H: My first serious album was the Castle Danger album Dark Matters. I had all these compositions that I could sequence into something thematic. I decided to release that. I’m not exactly sure when - somewhere in 2013.

J: For me, that came out of nowhere, and it was very well timed because I was just getting into ambient and noise music. I think it’s an incredible album. What was the process behind creating that?

H: As I look at the track listing, it all really started with “Reapers.” I had recorded that as a single take and that is one of the two on this record that I recorded live. “Reapers” and “Light Travels.” The others were produced. The glitch effects are something that I continue to use. I import raw data into audacity. Audacity creates a glitch, which won’t sound super pretty, but it will try to read any file as a sound file, which is fun to play around with.

J: Where’d you get the pictures for your releases?

H: The picture for Sorry Carl, But We’d Rather Destroy Ourselves is from the sun setting over Lake Michigan when I was camping on the upper peninsula. It was taken last summer in 2013 from a hyper-extended family reunion.

J: Have you thought of doing a physical release for any of your albums?

H: I have. I thought about doing a limited CD-R run for Ghosts but I sort of gave up on that idea. I would theoretically like to release Ghosts as a cassette. I’d have to change the track listing a bit, though.

J: Do you think that would compromise anything?

H: Ghosts is one that I’ve been listening to again to see if it holds up, and I think that it does. But since some of the songs are old recordings, some of the melodies don’t seem to have a beginning, middle, or end. “Becoming the Ghost” is the one that I haven’t had to keep listening to, but the effect of it is really cool. I’m concerned, though, that that track may wear off. If there were a resequence, I may try to put it between two more melodic parts. That’s my self-assessment of that album.

Ghosts Cover Art
J: Do you frequently assess your own albums?

H: Absolutely. I always try to critically evaluate my own stuff and look at it without the bias of being the maker. “What would the reception be?” I’m really proud of Dark Matters and Ghosts. Sorry Carl was kind of a throwaway.

J: Why do you say that?

H: I may have gone a bit overboard with how long I made the first and third songs. The same is true of “The Ocean in Which We Drown.” “The Reapers Wake” is actually a remix of the "Van Halen Corruption” track I had on Soundcloud. I wanted to take that track and do the Ghosts thing with it and coax some new sounds out of it.

J: Are you happy with that one?

H: There is no real structure to “The Reapers Wake.” It’s a formless mass. A metal machine music dare. I wanted Sorry Carl to be a sequel to Dark Matters.

J: What’s the story for “The Ocean in Which We Drown”?

H: Oh, right. That was actually one of my old experiments with tape loops recently. I found a method for making a loop within a cassette and have it work within a cassette loop. It probably would work about 2/3 of the time, but I would record them when I did. The tape loop in “The Ocean in Which We Drown” is a cassette that I found in a Pink Floyd case. I bought it at an antique store, but when I opened it, it was a Mariah Carey/Boyz 2 Men single. I then made it into a sound of an ocean and drowning.

J: I’m sure Mariah Carey would love to hear that. 

H: I’m sure she would too.

J: How did you first get into noise/tape loops/ambient music?

H: I’d been a fan of Brian Eno’s ambient 1 for a while. I thought that was one of the most haunting albums I’d heard, but recently my kick in ambient in music was an album recommended by Tiny Mixtapes called Glass Canyons by Marielle V. Jakobsons. I downloaded it based on the review and I listened to it and was blown away. It’s an incredible mesh of synthesizer, soundscapes, violin, and more. It made me realize that ambient music can be compelling.

J: Do you still write for Beats Per Minute?

H: BPM actually went on a hiatus in October of 2013, but I’ve been meaning to start writing reviews for maybe my own personal blog.

J: I didn’t know you had a blog.

H: I don’t have one yet, but I’m thinking of getting stuff together. I’ve got a notebook filled with ideas, like ratings on albums of 2014 so far.

I Feel Evil cover art
J: So you do like numerical ratings for albums?

H: Yeah, just for my personal notes. I used to think that the letter grading system was good, but I hit on a numerical system that I like, which is that you rate albums from 0 to 9 as opposed to 0 to 10.

J: 5 being like average?

H: Yeah, 5 would be average. 7 would be pretty good. 8 would be very good. 9 would be super solid. Over time an album could become a 10. I don’t think you can consider an album perfect until you know how it ages. Very, very rarely, though, there will be an album that comes that you know is a masterpiece. For me, that last album was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West.

J: Interesting.

H: Those rare times, you could give an album a 10 when it was released.

J: So what have you been working on now?

H: Immediately before you called, I’ve been setting up a glitch library and making some drum loops. I should have some new music coming up that I think you’ll like!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Interview with Luke from Blood and Sun

I grew up in a deeply religious Christian family that instilled me with a reverence for the Bible. In some ways, it was a Christian success story, as I read the Bible very frequently (and continue to do so). In another way, it ended with me perhaps concentrating on the wrong thing, as I pretty much was always reading the book of Revelation. Revelation is filled with a vivid mystique that is found only in parts of the Bible: it most canonically echoes the Hebrew Bible, which tend to focus on a badass brick and mortar God's conquest of Northern Africa and the Middle East. It's funny because Revelation is placed in traditional Bibles after the Epistles, which are didactic letters from Saints, and generally don't really hold my attention, though parts of Acts of the Apostles do. The reason that I bring all of this up is because Revelation ties in with a quote from Acts of the Apostles: "The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord." Having read Revelation, the Biblical scholar knows that "the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord" doesn't exactly consist of unicorns and happy feels. There's a lot of fire, brimstone, and broken seals. 

Not only does that passage include the words "blood" and "sun," but it also reflects an encroaching darkness as well as an end of days. Many of these themes, topics, and even words appear in Blood and Sun's seminal album White Storm Falls, which is the starkly beautiful pinnacle of American neofolk in my opinion. Blood and Sun reflects a cosmological turning of the planets and stars as the change of seasons becomes a recurring, welcome protagonist. But there's a tension between man and the forces greater, which doesn't mean that there isn't any hope at all, but that maybe it's good to know where we stand in the greater scheme of things.

White Storm Falls without a doubt will make an appearance on my year-end list and I cannot recommend the album enough. It can be purchased through the Pesanta Urfolk Website and streamed on the Blood and Sun Bandcamp. Luke has played in Brooklyn recently, though he has also said he will be playing Washington on the Solstice as well as a chance of having some dates in Minnesota in the summer. I have yet to see Blood and Sun, though I will definitely be making my way to Minnesota to catch them. The band also has a page on Facebook where you can keep track of them.

Jordan: When did you begin making music as Blood and Sun? How did you know that you wanted to make music?

Luke: I've been playing music since an early age, being involved in my first band probably around twelve years old. The stirring of emotions and imagery, cultivation and expulsion of energy has always attracted me to making music to perform.

L: I first started recording a few covers for my own enjoyment and writing chord progression for what would become Blood and Sun in 2008. I wanted to pursue something with it at the beginning but felt as if the time wasn't right yet. In ways, it seemed as if the seed needed the contemplation of winter before finding its germination in spring. In 2011, I began writing songs and reached out to a few good friends like Thomas Ashe on violin, and James Carolin on bass clarinet. Both of these individuals shared a similar calm dedication to their lives and heathen sensibilities. Within a month we began to perform. Over time, a rotating cast of members beside myself began to take form. Erik Wivinus, a long time friend and front man of Thunderbolt Pagoda joined to play percussion and Tanner Anderson who I had worked in the past on Maledicere joined playing hammered Dulcimer and more recently my good friend Angela joined to play cello on White Storms Fall.

J: Do you listen to much other neofolk? Are there any artists that you particularly like or find inspiring?

L: Yes most definitely. Of the Wand and the Moon, Changes, Sol Invictus, Death in June, Current 93, Forseti, and Darkwood come to mind fairly quickly. The list could continue for quite a while.

L: Both Changes and Death in June certainly have held sway as they share a particular masculine voicing. In the Case of Douglas, I appreciate his ability to create several possible narratives within one song, while not necessarily obfuscating meaning but leading the listener to question what is invoked by the often dichotomous pairing of concepts. Changes' sincerity shines through their almost memoir-like accounts in songs like Memorabilia or Sweet Eve, and the strong spiritual undercurrents found in Stranger in the Mirror, or Mahabharata of the Soul, reinforce a notion that the spirit side should not be divorced from the physical.

J: You had previously released a short run cassette. What was the process of writing and recording songs for that?

L: The Process of recording the Cassette was simple. For the Original songs I wrote chord progressions and lyrics, Tommy and James contributed their respective parts and we recorded them live on a Tascam four track with vocals being laid down on top. The covers on the B-side were mostly recorded around 2008.

J: Has your songwriting process changed at all since then?

L: Well one endeavor flowed into the next and so for the most part no. I would come to the group with Chords and Lyrics and the others would contribute parts and work with each other until we had an arrangement that worked. The recording process did change while working on White Storms Fall and I hope for a more collaborative writing process on the next album as both Tanner and Angela are incredibly accomplished musicians.

J: I'm more than blown away by your lyrics. What topics inspire your lyrics? How applicable are your lyrics to your everyday life?

L: Thank you! I really do appreciate that. The lyrics are largely ruminations on autobiographical topics. Songs like Keen directly deal with the untimely death of many friends over the years fell to accidents and murder. It’s a song about Ørlög or the web of fate so powerful that we and even the gods are subject to its force, which we in turn fight against or work with. Dead men do no deeds but it’s the one certainty we are all faced with.

L: Other songs are less didactic. The Veiled Lady deals with heartbreak, deceptions, and the thick air of disavowal but also concerns I was facing in the narratives of my paintings. One noticeable trait of all of the lyrics on the album is their settings in the seasons and currents in nature something that can be quite palpable in Minnesota’s environs. In terms of everyday life, it’s the currents that run through the course of life rather than the banalities of passing time.

L: The oak, dagger and Balder’s brow, which has become a symbol employed by blood and sun, speak of steadfastness, decisive action and continual becoming in a life filled with many counter currents.

J: Where did the title White Storms Fall come from?

L: Trudging through thick snow while the skin on your cheeks freezes and your lips crack when you attempt to smile.

You worked with Robert Ferbrache on this album, who's worked with some amazing artists. What was that like?

L: Working with bob was an absolutely wonderful experience. Adam of Pesanta and I stayed with Bob at Absinthe Studio for three days while mixing down. A good portion of the time was just sharing stories over absinthe, listening to 5-point surround mixes Bob does on his own time of Blood Axis, Woven hand and other amazing artists he’s worked with. Then when the work began he worked hard and understood what I wanted from the mix and how to get it there.

L: Bob is directly responsible for the Denver sound as well as many of the sounds we know as Neofolk.

L: During the trip Petras of Velnias decided to test our mettle by driving Adam and I up the shadow side of sugar loaf on an old mining road covered in snow no wider than the wheels of his truck to a stunning view of boulder from the fire swept peak.

L: I should also mention the countless hours the engineer Paul we worked with in Minnesota at Sunless Houses put in as we sculpted the final tracks to be mixed by Bob. As I understand it this was the last recording project he planned to take on.

J: How did you decide to release the new album on Pesanta Urfolk? They're a label that consistently wows me to be honest with their artistry and packaging. Did you have much say in the layout, design, and release of the album?

L: Adam and I met in Minneapolis through mutual friends and I was able to attend Stella Natura due to a change in jobs and the friendship with Velnias. We discussed working together and simple as a handshake we started working. Despite the delays of working with a one-man outfit that splits his time between several locations, bands, and numerous releases, Adam is sparing no expense with the album. It will be coming as a vinyl release (with CD included) housed in a red faux-fabric-gatefold with gold-debossed images and text and 12” booklet featuring the paintings of my good friend Luke Hillestad. Adam did the layout from my preliminary directions and I have to say it looks quite impressive.

J: You've recently moved from Minnesota to New York. Can you tell me a little bit about the move? Has it affected Blood and Sun?

L: I can’t say it hasn't, but from the inception a move was expected. I was finishing up a painting program in Minnesota and only because of a grant I received from the state of Minnesota to work on a body of paintings, postponing my move, did I even have the opportunity to work on White Storms Fall as it has materialized. In a sense, it has put me in closer proximity to people like Michael and Annabel of Knotwork/Blood Axis, and Jane of Tesco and I was able to work with them, Scout Paré Phillips, and the Lindbergh Baby on a show in December. It does pose interesting questions as to how lyrics may be affected by the change in scenery. It also provides opportunities to work with new people, which is an important part of what Blood and Sun has been about from the beginning.

J: You recently played a show in Brooklyn with two of my friends, Sean and Erik. How did you get in contact with them? How was the show?

L: The show was great. I've been a friend of Sean’s Fiancé for nearly a decade and Erik Proft and I have had many mutual friends over the years. They both took time out of their busy schedules to help me with the show and I feel it went quite well - there was bit a of a Brown Book [editor's note: Brown Book is a Death in June album with much electronic influence] feel with the electronic percussion. It was an honor to work with such dedicated men and I can’t say enough good things about Heaven Street records.

J: Do you have any plans to tour after the album is released?

L: Angela and I will be playing Thirst for Light in Washington this summer solstice and opening for Agalloch on their Minneapolis date a few days previous. I’m currently in a grad program for painting in New York so extensive touring won’t be feasible quite yet but there is talk of doing several shows in a Heathen brew hall in Minnesota over summer if anyone cares to make a trip.

L: We’ll see what opportunities unfold as I would love the opportunity to take it on the road.

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

L: Thanks for the interest and questions! And thanks to all the listeners of the album so far! Your support is appreciated.