Thursday, June 5, 2014

Interview with Rain Drinkers

I was fortunate enough to hear an advanced copy of Rain Drinkers' forthcoming Wood Violet album on the consistently great experimental label Tranquility Tapes. A mixture of classically-influenced instrumentation, field recordings, drone, and other sonic sources, Wood Violet is an effective condensation of the natural and anthropocentric worlds. As an individual interested in both music and sound, it sticks out as a synthesis of what is actively heard and what should be. Where does music come from? Why does format matter? Is music necessarily manmade? These are big questions that don't need answers to be important, but they are questions that can profoundly affect both the listening experience and sonic creation.

Rain Drinkers are a curious band in the sense that they seek knowledge, answers, and further meditation. Their music is a reflection of this and can be used for external pontification and internal dialogue, which raises the next question, which is "what is the use of music?" Rain Drinkers create exceedingly pleasant music, though both Joe and Troy involve themselves in other capacities too in an effort to explore the role of sound in our lives. Needless to say, Rain Drinkers is music for the sonic adventurer and for the questioning listener. It can be both a passive and an active auditory experience.

Follow the band on their Facebook Page and give them a listen on Bandcamp.

Jordan: Where did the name Rain Drinkers come from?

Troy Schafer:  The name as code, as words tend to be:

“May your pure steeds, rain-drinkers, bring you hither, swift as the tempest, your celestial coursers, Rapid as thought, with fair backs, full of vigour, resplendent in their native light.”
The Rig Veda, Book 1 as translated by Ralph T H Griffith

The name as breathe, sonorous form uttered between new friends, is something different altogether.

Joe Taylor: We struggled to find a name that was fitting to us. Mainly because we hadn’t yet found out who we were as a collective. In that respect we have become the name. Its funny how often it works that way. For me the name speaks mostly to one feeling and one truth.

The feeling is that of youth and freedom. When I was a child, there were storms where the windows were closed and the family was confined to the basement with rations.  When the worst had past we’d run from the house to splash and turn our heads to the sky and drink. That is an ability music and nature share, to one moment draw fear and the next moment bless you with a release of joy and freedom.   

The truth is that, as an existence, we all; plants, animals, land and water, consume the rain in the most absolute way. I feel that music can share this same acceptance.

Jordan: Do you guys like Rain?

TS: Indecision of the sea, manifest? What’s not to like?

JT: yes. What Troy said.

J: Your Facebook page says that you guys are from Madison but Xavier, don't you live in Chicago? What's the deal, fellas?

TS: Xax Mane Krass resides in the outer reaches of the Milky Way upon the teat of a colossal mole rat.  He comes to me in certain states.

Troy is biding his time in Chicago for academic purposes. Wyrd Wisconsin beckons him home as yearned thoughts alter his blood. Forward!

J: When did you guys start making music or recording?

TS: Joe and I first crossed paths as newly hired valet runners for a birthing hospital in Madison during the summer of 2009. There, we got to know each other through long rambling conversations about electromagnetic radiation and music selections blasting from the cars we parked.  We spent a substantial amount of time analyzing the smooth jazz being piped into the hospital lobby. Initially, we set out to create a collaborative portfolio of jingles. I became a bit overzealous about the jingle writing process and so we settled on scoring a soundtrack to the memories created between the two of us then and there.

My jingling spirit lives on. Hear here, one of my earliest attempts, during the first days of Rain Drinkers (credits à la fin):
J: Rain Drinkers seems to have a lot of acoustic instrumentation combined with electronic production. It's an impressive combination, and an underused one in my opinion that emphasizes beauty. Are you guys classically trained?

JT: You’re right, it seems people sometimes choose a side between acoustic or electric, analog or digital. For me there is a balance to be found between these two spectrums that is beautiful and vast. In the special moments when that balance is found, I’ve realized there was never two separate spectrums to begin with, there is just music. If it makes a sound, it can spark an idea and be used as a vehicle to deliver the listener to a place. That place can be reached with any medium with the right intention. A simple african drum holds as much if not more mystery to me as the most complex program and I love what they both enable me to do.
I am not classically trained. I have been taught what I know from improv with others and a life of ever evolving practice. I have the utmost respect for trained musicians. It is a special treat to play with someone like Troy who is both classically trained and an exceptional improvisationalist.    

TS: Well thanks Joe!

J: Do you find that there are any sounds in the natural world that are especially interesting to you guys? Do you employ found sounds or field recordings in your works?

JT: Thanks for asking. I like this question. One sound that comes to mind is the constant  movement upon a glacier. Years ago I was hiking atop the Kennicott glacier in Alaska. The sounds it produced were so immense and humbling. As it cracked and large rocks and ice continuously fell off their perches I felt comfortably small. I was pleasantly reminded that this earth never needed humans to survive. This amazing garden has never stopped moving and never will.

I do use found sounds and field recordings. One of my favorite to date was capturing the sound of bare legs rubbing against crisp bed sheets in an attempt to evoke a sense of comfort and safety.

TS: Very romantic! On a purely sonic level, my glacier is the sound of three black cats chewing food from glass bowls while I lie in bed.  I fall asleep to their crunching every night, tickling my subconscious.

While I tend to separate my phonographic practice from my musical selves, certain field recordings do find their way into my musical compositions. However, almost all of the sampled natural sounds on Rain Drinkers recordings have been collected by Joe. I always incite him to demonstrate agency and a conceptual link between those recordings and our music.  As you can hear, he is extremely successful in this endeavor.  Drones rarely exist in the natural world. Organic, naturally occurring sounds are brimming with texture, tone and rhythm that constantly evolve in form. Machines are the source of the majority of drones we hear in our daily environment. Taking a cue from nature could significantly reduce the heavily reproduced and cliche happenings within contemporary drone related scenes, resulting in more diverse and expressive sounds.

J: You've put out a bunch of recordings on a few labels predominantly in the cassette and CD realm. Do physical formats mean much to you guys? What determines how you release a piece of work?.

TS: Absolutely.  Audio recordings fix something already inescapable. The physical material on which music is written is an extension of the recording and an overall part of the sound phenomenon. Each format transmits it’s own audible peculiarities, signing a mark on the story of the sound event. Long before the artifice of our recording process begins, we thoroughly consider how our sonic material will take to any particular format. Duration and possible symmetry of the record, product availability and playback accessibility of the format, fidelity, cultural association with contemporary or antiquated technologies, life expectancy and intentional decay are but a few of those considerations.

J: You have a cassette coming out soon on Tranquility Tapes. I've listened to it and really enjoyed it. How did you guys write and record that?

TS: Our most recent album, Wood Violet, is a tribute to the great state of Wisconsin. It is our first time collaborating with Tranquility Tapes and we’re thrilled to have that work included among the quality tunes being released by Franklin and his accomplished label.
Aside from the track Live At The Wisco, we recorded Wood Violet in two or three takes of long form improvisations which were then condensed and sculpted digitally in post, with a few overdubbed embellishments here and there. It’s a fairly simple, straight forward approach that lies at the heart of all of our recordings.

J: Is there a piece of music that has been particularly important to you from your back catalogue, maybe in terms of personal resonance?

JT: One track that has a lot of meaning to me is “Nemuri” from Bore Upon The Breath of Dawn. Something clicked for me while recording that song. I should mention that it is not my favorite track but it was responsible for changing my approach and put me on the right track towards positioning myself musically in relation to space and time.

A similar thing happened to us as a project during Springtide. There is nothing I have been a part of musically that makes me feel the way that album does.  

TS: Side A on Urthen Web is by far my favorite RD track. It’s clear that I am not alone in this, as that tape sold out faster than any other. I openly invite any label we work with to release it on vinyl.

J: Do you guys play live at all?

JT: We have and it is a great change of pace from the studio. The final track on this upcoming tape is an example of our life work.

TS: A lot of our studio recordings are structured as a kind of live performance except that our only audience is ourselves. As Joe mentioned, the last track on Wood Violet was recorded in a dark, dingy little pub in Madison where I’ve seen some of the most inspiring shows of my life with only a handful of people there to witness them.  

J: Do you guys have any plans for the future?

JT: Nothing was ever planned and still is not.

TS: No sir. Zero agenda.

J: Doesn't pertain as much to your music, but I was an English major so I'm gonna ask. You guys have any book recommendations or any books that have been important to you?

TS: It does pertain to our music. Literature is all the more integral to my sound practice.  

A short list that anyone interested in music, film and/or sound might benefit from:

Abbate, Carolyn. In Search of Opera. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2001.

Agamben, Giorgio. The Coming Community. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1993.

Altman, Rick. Sound Theory, Sound Practice. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Arnheim, Rudolf. Radio: An Art of Sound. New York: Da Capo, 1972.

Barthes, Roland. The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music,art, and Representation. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985.

Barthes, Roland, and Stephen Heath. Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

Böll, Heinrich. The Stories of Heinrich Böll. New York: Knopf, 1986.

Cardew, Cornelius, Michael Chant. Treatise Handbook, including Bun No.2 Volo Solo. London: Edition Peters, 1971.

Chion, Michel, Claudia Gorbman and Walter Murch. Audio-vision: Sound on Screen. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1987.

Derrida, Jacques. Khôra. Paris: Galilée, 1993.

Hellström, Björn. Noise Design: Architectural Modelling and the Aesthetics of Urban Acoustic Space. Göteborg: Ejeby, 2003.

Schafer, R. Murray. European Sound Diary. Vancouver: A.R.C. Publications : A.R.C. the Aesthetic Research Centre, 1977.

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

JT: Thank you so much for allowing us this dialog. We are very grateful for your interest.

TS: In relation to other projects and releases:

a new Kinit Her record is in the works this summer with a very special surprise guest.

Consider gripping the new Untitled No. 1 7” released under my birthname this summer on the mighty Signal Dreams label run by my muffin man Joel Shanahan.

For all other plugs and name droppings, visit

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