Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Release of the Day: Hogg - Bury the Dog Deeper

Samuel R. Delany, coincidentally my favorite author, has books of a great variety: science-fiction, non-fiction, theory, erotica, etc. Within the last six months, I had the pleasure of reading one of his most confounding, transgressive books, Hogg, for the first time  All you need to know is this: Hogg is the name of the central character in the book, the embodiment of everything perverse in human society - his paying job is to rape and break people, which he'd do without the promise of financial compensation.

This is a sufficient backdrop to Hogg - I think it's where they got the name because it certainly makes sense. The Chicago postpunk two-piece made of Emma Sims and Hanna Elliott released their first album Bury the Dog Deeper, a cassette on Andy Ortmann's Nihilist label, earlier this month. It makes me feel so terrible and goddamn I love it so much. At a live show, the duo changes formation and instruments - guitar, drums, drum machine, bass, and vocal duties - between songs. This is done effortlessly and efficiently.

There's an element of hypnotism to both performance and song, as Hogg builds its foundation on deep, dark bass and drum grooves. This is sinister music. This is unsafe music. Additionally, Hanna and Emma get a ton of mileage out of their instruments and their voices. Sometimes guitar sounds like guitar and sometimes like a factory line. Similarly, sometimes their vocals are siren-like, but at other times they recall The Keres, the Greek female spirits of violent death. The eight songs on Bury the Dog Depper are reminders that we have yet to squeeze every ounce of postpunk out of its drying husk and I personally can't wait to see what vice-gripping method the band comes up with next.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Release of the Day: Quittinirpaaq - Dead September

Quittinirpaq, the Austin-based psychedelic industrial project led by Matthew Turner, revels in a reeling, claustrophobic crunch. A drum machine provides the steady ground while feedbacking guitars and a sinister bass make up the filling. Vocals, as if croaked from a dying priest, come and go, occasionally lingering to swirl atop the psychedelic miasma. The only thing that someone resembles your mom or dad’s psych rock, though, and what Quittinirpaaq provides, are the deep grooves a la Kraftwerk’s first two albums, albeit through a dark filter.

Dead September appears to be Quittinirpaaq’s third LP, and the experience shows. The record appears fully structured, because it's so dirge-riddled and rhythmic, but the flurries of noise and other accoutrements give away the spirit of improvisation and experimentation. This is what keeps the record engaging: it is never a completely comfortable listen. Don't mistake your bobbing head with understanding - this is dangerous, chaotic movement. Just before the snake strikes, it rattles its tail as a dog greets its master.

Dead Septemer is out on Rural Isolation Records 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Interview with John Touchton of Severed + Said

Occlusions, the already-out-of-print newest release from Jacksonville musician John Touchton's Severed + Said, brings together profound mystery, analog synthesizers, and beats, daring the listener to dance through a lens, darkly. As with many instrumental electronic acts based around analog synth hardware, it's hard to separate the artist from a John Carpenter influence. Like Touchton points out below, a lot of the instruments composers in the 80s and 90s were using are still used today. That excludes many people who compose and make music on a computer, though, to be fair, the internet's a wild, dangerous place where no synth tone is ever truly hidden.

I got to meet John during International Noise Conference at Churchill's a few weeks after I moved to Miami while I was still shuffling around hotels in the area. The day after he played, we got into a thirty minute conversation about Philip K. Dick in Sweat Records and I immediately knew that he was another weirdo damned to spread the gospel of paranoia, just like me.

We caught up recently and talked literature, his newest tape, and upcoming music.

Jordan Reyes: Do you think science fiction has anything to do with how you make music for Severed + Said?

John Touchton: When I was doing Occlusions, I would have liked to think so. I’m not really a sci-fi nerd, though I appreciate it. At the time of writing, I was reading a lot of Haruki Murakami and Philip K. Dick. I thought I was channeling some sci-fi, but I don’t think the songs actually have much of a sci-fi sound. There’s certainly a lot of that profound, surreal mystery you’d find in a Haruki Murakami novel like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In Murakami books, characters are deal with a life-reflecting mystery. It's communicating something to them, but it’s so shrouded that it almost drives them to madness. They can see the signs, but not what the signs are pointing out.

JT: The same can be said for the Philip K. Dick that I was reading: I wasn’t so much reading his sci-fi books: I was reading the Valis Trilogy, which consists of Valis, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, and then The Divine Invasion. Outside of that, Radio Free Albemuth actually connects more to Valis than the other two books. They were only considered a trilogy because he was dealing with something personally while writing books - a lot of disorienting mysteries where synchronicities line up in an effort to communicate. Valis is about Philip K. Dick and his personal experiences.

Photo by Rebecca Rose
JT: The album title Occlusions came about while I was in communication with Britt Brown from Not Not Fun. I was trying to pitch it as if it were sci-fi influenced. He suggested that we take our time with the album title. He was convinced that it was less of a sci-fi oriented album and more occult-influenced and explorative. As the release day was creeping up, we looked at the song titles, mostly Philip K. Dick references. The first track, “Occluded,” is an interesting word that implies being unable to see what’s right in front of you. You can be occluded from the truth. Even though Britt didn’t know it was a Philip K. Dick reference, he suggested we call the tape “Occluded” or “Occlusions.” I liked Occlusions.

JT: When we met, I was perusing the LPs at Sweat Records and I came across this obscure modular synth record, which appeared to be more like an academic exploration of modular synth. The album was called Occlusions! At first I was disappointed because I figured I’d have to redo the album title, and I was getting ready to e-mail Britt to relay the bad news, but then I thought maybe that was a sign for me. It started to make more sense that what I was feeling was the mystery. Maybe this was channeling something in my life that I hadn’t figured out. Maybe the music is an abstract interpretation of those mysteries. Through channeling those mysteries, maybe I can figure it out. I never told Britt about that album though (laughs).

JR: That’s really strange. I guess the sci-fi that I got out of it, and I think we discussed this when we met, is that it’s hard to think of sci-fi movies or, even beyond that, just movies of “the weird” without summoning John Carpenter. He’s sort of this overwhelming presence in how instrumental electronic music sounds and how horror/sci-fi movies look. Basically anyone doing that sparse, electronic instrumental music is automatically lumped in a little bit with him.

JT: Definitely. That’s what a lot of the comparisons that I’ve gotten have been. But even if I were to listen to a John Carpenter score or a Severed + Said album or an instrumental electronic artist, there are nuances. Maybe it sounds like a John Carpenter score that was never made. I understand the comparison. One of the keyboards that I use heavily is an early 90s Ensoniq. I actually just use the precuts because they sound so good. They sound like what I would hear from a John Carpenter film or that era of sci-fi/horror/David Lynch/Twin Peaks/Angelo Badalemente media.

JT: It has a lot to do with hardware. Those guys were using hardware rather than computers to make music, which is what people usually do now. But even on computers, the sounds emulate what was coming from those 80s keyboards. It may have to do with something more technical than someone trying to sound like that. But that’s great! I think John Carpenter is a better composer than a director anyway.

JR: Yeah, I think he’s more of the Stephen King of movies where the execution is secondary to the story. I mean, look, let’s put it this way: I’d never have anyone else direct a John Carpenter movie, but I’m not going to go into anything he’s directed with the expectation of understanding new things about film afterwards like you might when you see a Michel Haneke movie or a Kurosawa movie or a David Lynch movie or a Terence Mallick movie where you’re like “Holy Fuck! I didn’t know movies could do that.” But when I hear such an evocative and simultaneously cheesy soundtrack I can’t help but think it’s strangely effective and definitely new.

JT: And even without the film it stands alone. Like you said, it’s evocative: it can make you feel emotions even without seeing the context at times.

JR: Agreed. Anyway, how was your tour?

JT: It was good! we did eleven shows in eleven days. I don’t know if as many people would go as far as I did in such a short period of time. I didn’t want to book a long, extensive tour because I thought there was more risk of having to pay out of pocket. Matthew Moyer from PopNihil came with me, at first out of interest, but as I booked shows, there was room for him to play too. For the last month before I went on tour, I had provided backup sounds for Burnt Hair. We actually ended up putting Burnt Hair on three of the shows. He played in Athens, New York, and Savannah. I know he’s always wanted to play up North too so he got to fulfill that dream. It also meant that he wasn’t just tagging along, even though he had gladly signed up to just tag along.

JT: I really have to hand it to some of the promoters who were helping me out like Joe Mauro in Providence, who performs as New Bliss, called in a personal favor to Adam from Timeghost who played the Providence show. Craow played that show too - he’s another guy from Florida - along with New Bliss, and Mercy Gait, which is Ali from Power Monster. It was a really great show to be put on.

JT: I also got to play the Richmond, VA and Chapel Hill, NC dates with Holly Hunt and To Live & Shave in L.A. Tom Smith is such a nice guy and there's always Rat Bastard, who’s quiet, but has a strong presence. Additionally, there were two guys on tour with them: Graham from Atlanta who does Blossoming Noise Records and Patrick Spurlock. The last night of their tour was in Chapel Hill, which ended in an extended jam set between Holly Hunt and To Live & Shave in L.A.

JT: Barkev who does Bernard Hermann put the New York show on. We did it in the back of this bar called the Tandem Bar. It has a classic-looking back room area - seems like it may have been a popular cocaine bar in the 70s or 80s. That show was with Cienfuegos and a few others.

JT: Of course, there were a few shows that weren’t as well-attended. I can usually tell when the shows will be poorly attended if the people who are booking the show aren’t as communicative. The Atlanta show, for instance, was the first stop on the tour. I got in touch with what I guess is a fairly popular arts space called Mammal Gallery, but the guy I was in touch with expected me to round up the locals, which I did [laughs]. Matthew helped me get Death Domain on the lineup, which was awesome. There was no one there, but I played for Death Domain and Rin Larping, which is Lindsay Smith’s contact mic based experimental noise project.

JT: I also played in Dayton, Ohio, which is the only reason I went through Atlanta and Athens first. I’m sure you’re familiar with Dromez, which is Liz Gomez’s female-vocal based power electronics project. She used to be in Austin, TX. Her and her boyfriend John Maloney have a space together where they do intimate basement shows. She performed as her newer project Termagant - it’s more low tone, atmospheric, but still noisy and cacophonous. We got to hang out for breakfast the next day and she played me some unreleased Dromez stuff, which she described as more poppy than her other stuff, but I know it wouldn’t really qualify as pop music by any connection to the world.

JT: We also had all the costs covered too from tour. We didn’t make any money, but everything was covered.

JR: I feel like breaking even on a tour is a success.

JT: Yeah, me too. I realize how people can live life on the road. I’ve found that I wasn’t loafing off and spending money as I do in town while touring. I spend money when I don’t have something to do. It’s refreshing to see how that’s a viable, sustainable way to live. Selling merch, getting a little bit of money from the door, and putting it into gas and food.

JR: Did you sell many of your tapes?

JT: Yeah, I sold out of the ones that I had. I had forty of the Not Not Fun tapes and eighteen of the Crying in Dream tape from PopNihil. Some of them were traded for material. I would almost rather trade it because the person who gets it definitely wants the tape and I’m also getting something that I would like.

JR: I prefer to do things that way too. Record swaps. There are so many records that I really want to have. I’ll trade stock for them. I think that’s more fun and it’s a little anti-consumerist too: it proves that we can be a bit more collaborative in our society. There’s an element of hope in it too, I think. It’s a nicer way to have transactions.

JT: Yeah, it’s bartering. Maybe after the apocalypse, cassette tapes will be the new form of currency. And cassette players will be the ultimate commodity.

JR: I’ve got a walkman that I use all the time. That’s where I heard the Not Not Fun tape cause I can bring it to work when I’ve got office work. Actually, it’s how I heard the first PopNihil tape because when I first got to Miami, when we met, I was living in hotels and the only thing I had to listen to music was my walkman so I’d burn tapes all day. I listened to so many PopNihil tapes.

Photo by Rebecca Rose
JT: That’s awesome. I really like what PopNihil is doing. He must be getting close to his 60th release and he’s only been doing it for two years or less. He’s got a diverse catalogue too: he’s got obscure harsh noise, cinematic instrumental stuff, black metal, punk rock. As long as he keeps releasing the way that he has, PopNihil will continue to garner more respect and interest. I never met Matthew until I moved back to Jacksonville from California. Before I left, I put out a split tape with my last project Ascetic with Virgin Flower on another Florida label called Rainbow Pyramid. Matthew picked that up some time after I was gone. He knew that he wanted to put out Florida musicians. I’ve been doing music since I was a teenager, but I like to pretend most of those years didn’t happen (laughs). I’ve seen a lot of bad music and good music too that never got recorded or released. Since Matthew’s providing this outlet, at least some people will have their music documented. I’m really glad that my first release was on PopNihil, as far as Severed + Said goes. I remember when he came up to me after one of my first performances. I was just out of a long break up and because I had been in a band with that person, the band broke up too. After that break up I played the pre-INC show in Jacksonville of last year. Matthew was there and he came up after and said “I have dibs on your first release.” And, yeah, I was down. 

JT: It’s really only because of Ascetic, though, that I was put in touch with Not Not Fun. It was one of those things where Ascetic played a show in town after I moved back from California. And a guy at the show told me he really liked what we were doing and he told us a bunch of bands that he was interested in. I knew he wasn’t just a kook, but he didn’t necessarily have a ton of connections. And I was just like, “Yeah, whatever, dude.” So I sent him some stuff. And that guy got us in touch with Britt from Not Not Fun. We didn’t ever necessarily plan an official release, but we had a bunch of communication back and forth. Once we broke up though, there wasn’t really a reason to release anything. I never really e-mailed him back cause I was so disappointed. We had been working on material - in fact, all is done except for the vocals. After the PopNihil release, though, I sent him that and asked if he liked it. He didn’t confirm anything, but once I sent him the new material, he was stoked and we worked from October 2014 until the release date in May 2015.

JR: What do you have planned for the future?

JT: I have about twenty minutes of new material that I’m about to record. I talked to another band about doing a split and I talked to Britt about possibly releasing that split. I don’t want to say who or what cause I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a rad split coming out on Not Not Fun once I get my material recorded and once the other band gets their material recorded.

JT: For me, personally, other than that, I want to figure out how to do a set that I can travel more easily with. I want to minimize to the point where I’ll be able to fly somewhere to play. I’d love to go out to L.A. and promote some of my material from playing live shows. I have some friends in Oakland too and I’d love the play the venue Life Changing Ministries there - it’s a tiny church space that looks like a box with a small steeple. To avoid unwanted attention, they kept the name of the church and kept it looking like a church, but it’s actually a great experimental venue.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Interview with Dick Diver

Melbourne from the Australian state of Victoria boasts a population of more than four million people and is the second-most populous city in Australia & Oceania. Melbourne from the United States state of Florida has a bit over seventy thousand people and is nowhere near the most populous city of the Floridian state let alone the United States. With me so far? Dig: Melbourne, Florida is the third LP from Melbourne, Australia band Dick Diver, featuring gentle tones, pop songwriting, and effortless harmony. It's also the first Dick Diver LP to have a domestic release for a United States audience, by the ever-prescient, ever-tasteful Trouble in Mind Records.

Dick Diver has been on an American tour for close to a week at this point, starting in Chicago and making their way Southeast, passing through Texas en route to California before careening across the pacific Northwest. Tonight they play the Nightlight in Chapel Hill with one of my all-time favorite bands Spider Bags and if you're anywhere within the Triangle area, you need to catch this show or you're going to be kicking yourself later.

I got to bother Bill Roe (Trouble in Mind co-mogul and supreme overlord of band chaufferage) and Dick Diver for a few questions while they're on the road. Unfortunately, I will not be able to catch them on this tour, but that's no excuse for you!

Jordan Reyes: How is Bill Roe as a driver? I understand that he runs a mean record label, but if you had to give him a yelp review as a chauffeur, what would you say?

Alistair McKay: We thought Bill was coming for a holiday, but he just works from the wheel. The road is great for listening to new bands he says. I looked over at his phone one time after we'd just swerved to miss a goat and it said 'LOL. Thanks for sending. Love the sound of this :D got anything else though? :D'

JR: In all seriousness, how is tour going so far? Have there been any highlights so far?

AM: Tour is great. We've been looking up famous serial killers from each city we visit. Some real sickos. Show wise, New York last night was a blast. Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today.

JR: What are the logistics like for touring in Australia - is it feasible to tour by car? Do bands tour much outside of somewhat close cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane?

AM: Lots of places to play but people are spread pretty thinly outside the cities. Last year we played a show in a town called Cockburn. It's in the outback near where they filmed the first Mad Max. population 28. I think 17 people turned out. Cockburn has 2 pubs so I guess the others went there instead. Not a lot else to do.

JR: Tell me a little bit about your record Melbourne, Florida. You guys recorded this with Mikey Young [of Total Control & Eddy Current Suppression Ring] again, right? Is recording pretty quick and easy at this point after working with him so much?

AM: We rented a place on Air BnB near the beach and set up there for a week. We took a piano down and all our other gear. Rolling hills, miles away from anyone else. It was great. We did most of the record there. We did a couple of tracks - “percentage points” and “boomer class” - and some overdubs afterwards at mikey's house and al's girlfriend's house. 

JR: How did you guys decide to release your record with Trouble in Mind? I know you went with Chapter for a domestic release. How is it having more affordable international distribution? Does this change a lot for you?

AM: Al Montfort knew Bill through Mikey Young and suggested we send him and Lisa a copy of the record as they've done a bunch of stuff we like. It's great having a label based in the states. It makes it easier to tour and to get our records over here.

JR: When I listen to your new record "Melbourne, Florida," one of the things I notice quickly is that there's not one person singing all the songs. Beyond that, these songs cover a lot of ground. Do you each write songs for Dick Diver? Are there specific themes and ideas you guys cover in a Dick Diver song?

AM: Yep, we all write songs for Dick Diver. I think everyone just writes about whatever is holding their interest at the time. My current interest right now is 90's plush toys. Love is Rupert’s.

JR: In addition to the four of you all, you had some guest appearances by way of a synth, saxophone, and trumpet on "Melbourne, Florida." Had you written these parts in before recording? Did they just come to you as you recorded?

AM: We had a rough idea of where we wanted the horns to go but the parts themselves were mostly improvised by the players Gus and oscar.

JR: I know that the name Dick Diver came from an F. Scott Fitzgerald book. Do you guys get to do much reading while touring? Have you read any good books lately?

AM: I vomit if I read in the car. I'm writing this in the car now and am close to spewing. Zadie Smith's 'NW' is a recent highlight for me. Also Javier Marias's 'Your Face Tomorrow' trilogy.

JR: Have you guys ever seen Wake in Fright with Gary Bond and Donald Pleasance? That movie blew my mind and it actually still freaks me out when I think of it. Do you think it's at all a good representation of life in the outback areas of Australia?

AM: Top movie. Rupe and I went and saw it together when they rereleased it a few years back. I remember we came out of the cinema afterwards both stinging for a beer. It was very confusing. I mean how can you still want to drink after THAT? I don't think it's representative but it might not be too far wide of the mark of a couple of joints I've visited. There's some pretty weird places. But there's a lot of outback so thankfully it's various. Like men!

JR: What all is in the future for Dick Diver?

AM: We’ll keep writing songs and making records. Hopefully we'll come back to the states early next year. Europe beckons too.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?

AM: Thanks to everyone who's come out to see us play so far this tour. We're here having a ball for another two weeks!

Tour Dates:

Wed 07/01/15 - Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle
Thu 07/02/15 - Cleveland, OH - Happy Dog
Fri 07/03/15 - Philadelphia, PA - Philadelphia Record Exchange instore
Mon 07/06/15 - Cambridge, MA - Middle East Upstairs
Tue 07/07/15 - Brooklyn, NY - Baby's All Right
Wed 07/08/15 - Baltimore, MD - OttBar
Thu 07/09/15 - Chapel Hill, NC - Nightlight
Fri 07/10/15 - Asheville, NC - Grey Eagle
Sat 07/11/15 - Atlanta, GA - The Earl
Mon 07/13/15 - Austin, TX - Mohawk (inside)
Tue 07/14/15 - El Paso, TX - Lowbrow Palace
Thu 07/16/15 - San Diego, CA - Soda Bar
Fri 07/17/15 - Los Angeles , CA - Jewels
Sat 07/18/15 - San Francisco, CA - Make Out Room
Mon 07/20/15 - Portland, OR - Mississippi Studios
Tue 07/21/15 - Seattle, WA - Vera Project @ Local 46
Thu 07/23/15 - Missoula, MT - Real Lounge

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Release of the Day: Shredded Nerve - Retention

Justin Lakes has been in projects like Friends with Corpses (with Joel Walter of Inbreeder) and the newly-formed Surgical Improv Ensemble (with JR Nelson of Saran Man and Chris Hansell of Ligature). He also has a history of solo projects, of which Shredded Nerve is the most contemporary. In addition to the Retention 7" on Torn Light Records, Shredded Nerve has released a handful of cassettes and digital files.

Retention features two pieces of collaged noise and musique concrète. The A-side "Mind Begins to Crumble as Dots are Connected (alternate)" begins with the sound of a yawning mosquito, which repeats and takes on the role of a rhythmic signifier before a nightmare clang, reminiscent of sounds Freddy Krueger's boiler room, jars the listener from an already discomforting atmosphere. Then things get chaotic. Harsh blasts of wall noise barrage with only tidbits of the original ambience cutting through static overdrive.

Side B, the title track, is equally unnerving. Rhythm in this piece takes on a monstrous quality, where screeching pulses eject a steady, chopped gurgling and sputtering from its central place. It calls to mind Donna Haraway's haunting essay "A Cyborg Manifesto," an absolutely essential critique on technology and how it affects daily life in the modern era, in that the piece begins with a sound that might be human. It is then distorted and manipulated into uncanny cacophony, which I can't help but think echoes man breaking from his old form, becoming one with the New Flesh.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Release of the Day: Mardou - Rimbaud/Bounty Hunter 7"

"Spring brought the laughter of the idiot," incants Mardou on the a-side to their phenomenal recent single "Rimbaud/Bounty Hunter" by the excellent Torn Light label. Strangely, with such bleak lyrics, "Rimbaud" manages to ingratiate itself into the hard-to-reach nooks of the cranium. That's a testament to the band's melodic prowess. Where lesser postpunk bands get caught up in standoffish diatribe, Mardou manages to make such sentiments communal. That's partly because the band tackles fairly universal themes, albeit with a loner mentality. This may seem like a contradiction, but it's not: in Mardou's world, we're all alone together.

"Bounty Hunter" might even be more catchy, with background vocal barks, a snaking, sparse guitar part, and its misanthropic mantra "Please leave me/I don't want to make a scene." As with "Rimbaud," a lot of "Bounty Hunter"'s power comes from that Jesus-Christ-I've-Had-The-Same-Thoughts feeling, which is unnerving, but enticing. Actually, that's kind of what makes the whole band work: there's this underlying dread against the constant, raging threat of awful people, but also a deep-seated appreciation for, well, pop songs.

The band itself hails from Cincinnati, OH and boasts Dylan McCartney on guitar and lead vocals, Aaron Watkins on guitar as well, Eric Dietrich on bass, and Legenjerry on drums. They have a full-length coming out in the future as well, which is sure to be equally provocative and enjoyable. For the time being, though, you really fucking need this 7".

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Interview with Screature

Four Columns is Screature's second LP working with Chris Woodhouse, long time Thee Oh Sees producer, and the band wears its confidence on its sleeves. Mirroring the itinerary of the first record, Four Columns boasts eleven short blasts of psychedelic postpunk, guaranteed to scare the neighbor's kid and make you feel okay about it. Frankly, it's fucking great.

On Four Columns, Screature takes the listener further into their realm of haunted urgency. Though they have always been intense, the band's sophomore full-length proves their ability to dual wield strength and restraint without ever losing venom and zeal. From larger than life (and death) vocals to darting, effervescent guitar sections, a sinister but meditative rhythm, and shadowy, blooming organ, the finely tuned four-piece scratches that horror-driven postpunk itch you always had.

Screature hails from Sacramento and consists of Liz Mahoney (vocals), Sarah Scherer (organ), Miranda Vera (drums), and Chris Orr (guitar), who have been playing together since 2008, though they performed for the first time in 2011 with Death Grips, and self-released their first LP, recently repressed on Ss Records, in 2013, which made it onto Chelsea Wolfe's best of 2013 list.

The band is set to tour the Northwest in August and are looking to tour the East Coast some time soon.

Jordan Reyes: Since 2011, y'all have been playing shows with heavy hitters like Chelsea Wolfe, Milk Music, Death Grips, and White Lung. Do you think that playing live has given you new perspectives on the creative auditory process? How does a live set influence what or how you guys will decide to record?

Screature: Absolutely. Our initial intent is to capture our live sound in the studio for aesthetic as well as practical reasons. Hearing and feeling the songs in an alien environment changes our perspective of them. It sharpens the knife. It's only the strong songs we want to survive. Performing live before recording is a must for Liz, in order for her to connect and grow with the songs.

JR: Your debut LP Screature came out in 2013. Do you think you guys have changed at all in your approach to what you will write or record?

S: The longer we're at it the better we are at our various roles. Our process is pretty comical at times, but it seems to work for us. We still throw a bunch of shit at the wall and see what sticks, so in that respect it hasn't changed a bit. If anything, we have a better understanding of our process and it feels less rigid.

JR: You all just released your sophomore LP "Four Columns." I know that this one was produced by Chris Woodhouse, like your first record. From what I've heard, you recorded and mixed the first LP in four days. On the second LP, did the process feel even more efficient? Were there any hiccups during recording or mixing?

Four Columns
S: Each time we record the process evolves. We have to be efficient because we're on a budget! Fortunately we had a fifth day on Four Columns. It gave Liz an entire day to lay down her vocals. We were able to double the vocals, guitar and organ. Who knows, maybe next time we'll have six days and some back up vocals will show up on the album. Highly unlikely but we're open to anything and everything. We have a lot of fun working with Chris, it's always smooth sailing. The worst part was recording over the old record - wiping that tape felt so wrong!

JR: That hand on the cover for Four Columns is haunting but a little absurd. I can't help but think of the Addams family! Where did you guys get the idea for the cover? Do you guys do much visual art outside of Screature?

S: Hahaha! It is a little absurd, isn't it? Well, we are a little absurd. We wanted a cover that spoke to the first album and embodied the concept of four columns. Even though Thing was not our inspiration for the album cover, we certainly like the reference. Hands are an easy thing to trip out on. Our goal was to create something that's open to interpretation. We're all visual artists outside of Screature with individual styles and mediums, but we work collectively in the band.

JR: You also decided to release the second LP as a co-release with your own imprint and SS records. I have a lot of respect for that degree of ownership, though I'm sure it's taxing in terms of time and energy. Why did you guys decide to do that?

S: It felt like the right thing to do. After self-releasing the first one we were happy to have the help and excited that Ss cared. Ss is also repressing 300 copies of the s/t LP. We have a lot of respect for Ss, plus they're down the street! I guess we're just control freaks, but in the end who really wants to give up control of their art?

JR: I read this feature with y'all on the Sacramento News & Review where Liz mentioned the equal love/hate of life. It was striking and observant. I think people are often all too comfortable with making blanket statements of things being "good" or "bad," but don't see the gradients that no doubt compose reality. Do you think that this desire to perceive shades of grey rather than black or white is important to your music as Screature?

S: As individuals we are all operating in those spaces so we would assume it has an influence on our output.  It's the shades of grey that are more elusive and intriguing to us.

Liz: I can only see gradients if I am making a strong effort to see both sides of something. I'm not a fan of bogus regulations, but I like rules and guidelines. Or I feel uplifted by the wisdom and love that comes from trauma and sorrow. All of this is very important to my writing of the lyrics, but it's all a bunch of bullshit that has nothing to do with how I write the lyrics.

JR: I think oftentimes people associate darkness with hopelessness, but I also think that creating music at all is an act of hope or at least a type of rebellion against an unfeeling universe. Naturally your music embodies darkness, but is there hope in it as well? Do you think music making has elements of hope in it?

S: Yes, you HOPE people like it! It can be an uplifting and positive experience even if it resides in the shadows. We don't see darkness and hope as mutually exclusive. Sometimes you need to feel around in the dark to find the light switch.

JR: I know you guys have a bunch of shows coming up (including one with Lydia Lunch on July 29th? Can we just talk about how cool that is!) in your neck of the woods. Are there any plans for you all to tour in the future?

S: Definitely. We'll do a Northwest tour in August and hopefully another east coast stint. Ideally we'd love to tour in Europe. In the meantime we'll just keep ripping a strip here and there.

JR: I was an English major so I have to ask, since I'm always on the lookout. Do you guys read much? Any books you'd recommend that you've read recently?
Sarah: Rodney Dangerfield's autobiography was surprisingly good. I enjoyed Kim Gordon and Viv Albertine's memoirs. I'm currently reading "When the Drummers Were Women" and I'm pretty excited about it.

Screature s/t
Liz: I read a ton of horse books as a child, a ton of Henry Miller as a teenager and a ton of Kurt Vonnegut as a young mother.

Miranda: I recently enjoyed "A Natural History of the Senses".

Christopher: "Four Novels of the 1960's" by Phillip K Dick seems relevant.

JR: Do you guys have a favorite classic monster movie? Why?

S: We're all pretty partial to Frankenstein. Aren't humans just some alien's monster.

JR: What all is in the future for Screature?

S: Let's consult the crystal ball...loading and unloading.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?
S: Just thanks!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Interview with Soren Roi

Flood Out, Soren Roi's recent, excellent full-length release on the consistently compelling Handmade Birds, is a thematically dense, dystopian walk through New York. On one level, it's got all the synth sequencing a John Carpenter enthusiast could dream of, but on another, it's firmly rooted in the harrowing reality of nation-wide injustice and authoritarian abuse. That's where the album gets its power: on a track like "Outed," featuring vocal samples touching on tragedies like Eric Garner's police-inflicted murder, the listener is simultaneously repulsed and driven to dance. It's really fucking unnerving actually. "Outed," in particular, evokes the tragic contradiction inherent in a "civilized" American city. Beneath the lighthouse is the darkest jail cell.

Beyond simply being both insightful and intelligent, Soren’s an active participant in New York underground music, having played in the late blackened psychedelic band Rosenkopf, and now booking the weekly Nothing Changes event with Nikki Sneakers. In the last few years, he’s traded his guitar for synthesizers and electronic equipment, and put out two solo tapes and one split on Ascetic House.

During the interview, Soren admits to being more productive with music than ever, having recently provided the "score" for Pieter Schoolwerth's Your Vacuum Sucks, recorded another cassette for Ascetic House, and been working on music he's especially proud of that he's looking to release on vinyl.

Jordan Reyes: Let's start with your role in Nothing Changes.

Soren Roi: Well, Nothing Changes was something that Nikki [Sneakers] & I started up after Wierd Night ended, which was the same basic concept - a weekly party at the same bar with live bands. There was a record label [Wierd Records] that came out of that. When Pieter [Schoolwerth] ended Wierd Night, he left it to myself and Nikki. So we picked it up and it’s been going ever since. Going to school makes it tough to be as involved in it as I have been, but it trades off a bit between the two of us. Nikki has another job now so I’ve been trying to step in and do more. That’s what a partnership is. At this point, I’d say it doesn’t take too much effort to book the event, but doing a weekly party can be stressful. Sometimes we'll run into the issue of not having a week booked, and while skipping is an option, I think it’s important to maintain the consistent, weekly aspect of it. When we run into those situations, we put our heads together and usually it works out.

JR: You guys were both part of the Red Bull Music Academy too, right?

SR: Yeah, Nothing Changes did the event for the Red Bull Music Academy. It was a new experience having money to book things. Our budgets are usually close to non-existent, but we had a budget this time. It was pretty big, but we still had a lot of local acts. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Output before, but it’s a big, primarily techno venue with a really great sound system. I don’t think it actually changed anything about Nothing Changes, though. It’s funny how, with the fast pace of New York, things quickly move by. They happen and then they’re over. “Okay, that was fun, but let’s get back to regular programming.”
JR: I know Gen[esis P-Orridge] lives in New York, but how’d you get in contact with Merzbow?

SR: That was through the guy Adam that sets up the whole thing. He threw it out there that he had partnered with Merzbow before and he put it out as an option. We were just like “Uh…yeah. Let’s do it!” That one actually came pretty easily. It’s funny: when you get into higher levels of booking, everyone has a booking agent or a contact or a fee, so it’s not that hard to get in touch with someone like Merzbow if you know who their booking agent is. In a way, it gets easier as long as you have the money, which is why it was cool to do this project. Normally, we do it at the bar, which takes a bit more haggling and friendship hook ups. In a way, working with Red Bull made it easier.

JR: I became familiar with your tunes through a couple of your tapes on Ascetic House. How long have you been making electronic music? Rosenkopf had some electronic elements too, I guess.

SR: Rosenkopf was my introduction to electronic music - we started it in 2010. I didn’t really know what I was doing to be honest. That project was more about playing live shows. I was playing guitar and we had a drummer. We were a band, but we had electronic elements. When that band broke up, I didn’t really know what was going on so I just started messing around on my own with the gear that I had. Electronic music can be great because it’s something that you can do alone. It’s always a learning process with new gear and software. I feel like every couple months I have a new breakthrough, whether it’s from programming or recording live.

JR: What was your original set up?

SR: I was really big into the Korg Electribe. That’s what we used in Rosenkopf. I was playing guitar, but I was also doing a lot of triggering and a small amount of manipulating live. I’d have to write guitar parts that worked around me manipulating the electronic pieces, which threw a wrench into things. 

SR: The Electribe itself was really great - the sound quality is a little lacking, but it was perfect for my first synth. I almost bought a TR707 because I really wanted electronic drums, but then I was speaking with a friend of mine who makes (laughs) dubstep and he was like “Oh, you should check out the Electribe.” I was a little wary because I wasn’t into the music he was making, but then I checked it out and dug what I could do. If I had gotten the drum machine, then Rosenkopf wouldn’t have had the same synth parts. It was a fork in the road.

JR: I’ve never owned a piece of electronic equipment.

SR: You play music?

JR: Yeah.

SR: What kind of stuff do you play?

JR: When I played in Chicago, I just did solo sets of like dark country, psychedelic folk stuff. I can pretty much play any instrument, though, if I can figure out how to get between whole steps and half steps. That said, I haven’t played that much with other people.

SR: I’m sort of the same way - I’m not musically-trained at all - I’m actually about to take my first music theory class in school next semester. I’ve always been able to jam with people and Rosenkopf was based around that the jamming mindset, figuring stuff out by feel. Now, part of me feels like I’ve lost the ability to play with people. I don’t really know anything about music or how it works or how to understand other peoples’ ideas. At this point in my life, I think I work better solo.

JR: Have you tried your hand at collaborating with other people in your electronic music?

SR: Yeah, here and there. I’ll meet up with friends and we’ll record something they’re doing and I’ll chop it up, or one friend will do the drum parts and I’ll do the synth parts. Electronic music is pretty good for that because you’re running loops and triggering things in and out. Sometimes it brings you out of your element too, especially if you’re working on something that you may not otherwise.

JR: Is making music therapeutic to you?

SR: I don’t know if it’s therapeutic cause I get really anxious, especially when I’m doing something that I think is exciting. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing - it just sort of is. I'll say this: it makes me feel productive in my artistic endeavors. So therapeutic? In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. Something about sitting by myself and working on stuff gives me anxiety, but another part likes it. When I sit down with my gear, hours go by. I’m not even conscious.

Photo by Nikki Sneakers
SR: Electronic music has this element of power because you’re controlling so much at once. Things dip in and out and when you’re playing with one filter, you’re brought to another place. You control so much emotional weight while doing so little physically. It’s different from when I played guitar.

JR: Do you think you could go back to playing guitar at this point? Maybe you still do?

SR: No, not really. At times I think it would be fun, but then others I find the guitar boring. I can do so much more with synths at this point, but who knows? Maybe when I get some of this music theory down, I’ll take up the guitar again. For me, I got to the point in guitar where I was doing a lot of the same things, which is probably the same with synths, but there’s so much range of sound, and rhythmic control and tonal control. You can do the same thing a million different ways.

SR: After Rosenkopf broke up, I was trying to maintain with guitar, but I began to see how much I was repeating notes and sounds - that’s when I realized I needed to move on.

SR: People use loop pedals too, which can give you a bit more of that “powerful” feeling. I never got into loop pedals, even though it’s similar to how sequencing is. With synths, it’s not always about what sounds I can get out of it, but how I can control the sounds in a rhythmic sense. I don’t use a keyboard: I use sequencers. You can pick out a guitar chord in different ways, but you don’t have the same motion of notes you can get from a sequencer, or even a keyboard synth for that matter.

JR: Tell me a little bit about the score you did for “You Vacuum Sucks.”

SR: That was a lot of fun. Pieter from Wierd made that movie. Some other people were involved too, like Nate Young [of Wolf Eyes] and Jonathan Canady from Deathpile. He was communicating with those guys through e-mail though, and he needed someone who could watch the film and do something more specific for what he wanted.

SR: It’s hard to say that I even scored it because it isn’t all that musical - it’s more just weird sounds. It was, however, collaborative. At first I was watching the film, recording stuff, sending it to him, but that was going too slowly. Eventually I just brought my gear over to his house in his living room, started making sounds, and said “Tell me when to stop. Tell when you hear something you like.” That ended up working out well for us. After that, it went quickly. It was a fun experience, but again, I have trouble saying I scored it because I just made a bunch of weird noises on top of it. I’m interested in scoring, though. It's another reason why I want to take this music theory class and understand how to better control emotion with chords and notes.

SR: It’s hard to do a traditional score with sequencers because everything is running on one tempo. If you want to move with the motion of a film, the speed of what’s going on musically needs to ebb and flow with the movie. I needed to figure out how to use the tools that I knew with trying to not overtake the mood of the movie. Timing was very important.

JR: Do you watch a lot of films?

SR: Yeah, I guess I do. I watch a lot of documentaries. In New York, there are a ton of theaters like the IFC theater. I enjoy going to the theater by myself and finding out what’s playing.

JR: Do you find yourself thinking of how your music would go along with movies?

SR: (Laughs) I don’t think so. For the most part, I’d say that you don’t want to think too much about the music in a movie. I actually don’t think about that when I watch a film.

JR: I am curious, though. When I see a film, I’m never really thinking about myself in regards to the movie, but I know that people do see movies through the lens of themselves.

SR: Oh, yeah, well, when I watch a movie, I definitely superimpose myself. I also get a lot of anxiety when I watch movies - I’ll start identifying myself and others. Okay, who am I in this movie? And who is this person? And who is my girlfriend? How does their relationship reflect on our relationship? I was watching Princess Mononoke, which is all about not just being a good person and being good to the world, but doing the right thing. I literally had a panic attack. I was going through a lot of stuff with an old friend of mine. I left the theater and was like “ I have to make things right.” I realized that I had to go and fix some of the things that were going wrong.

JR: Wow. That’s intense.

SR: Yeah, it was intense (laughs). I think it’s interesting. That’s funny. I haven’t thought about that in a while.

JR: You have a couple new tapes, right? And you have something new coming out on Ascetic House?

SR: Well, I just put out the one on Handmade Birds and I have another one, which, yeah, is for Ascetic House. I think the tapes are pressed already. I don’t know when it’s coming out, but it should be soon, whenever the next batch is. They seem to always do bigger batches of things. I was doing the Handmade Birds and Ascetic House tapes at the same time and since Ascetic House does these larger batches of tapes, it’s a good place to try out new things and be more experimental. These two tapes are very different. Normally I like to separate all my sounds and have things as clear as possible, but for the Ascetic House tape, I decided to do it more like a live session.

JR: What else you got going on?

SR: I’ve been working on more music than ever, probably. I really want to put something out on vinyl! I like tapes too, don’t get me wrong, but I’m sitting on a couple things and looking for an opportunity. Ascetic House keeps talking about doing vinyl, but they’re always so busy with a ton of things. It can be frustrating when you record something you really love and want to get it out and share it with people, and I know that in this day and age, you can put it out online. More recently than ever, though, I’ve been making stuff that I’m really proud of and I don’t want to just put it out on a tape or on Soundcloud. I want it to get a proper release.

SR: There are so many tape labels, which is great, but it’s also frustrating. I think someone on a smaller label needs to step up. There are so many great musicians, one in New York, and two in the States. I think all the record labels that were smaller and more accessible five years ago have gotten bigger, as they should. Maybe I’m out of the loop, but there seems to be a lack of smaller labels that are willing to put up the money to do vinyl, which is something that I haven’t thought about it. Fuck it, maybe I should start one.