Interview: S Olbricht

23 Sep 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

I'm sure plenty of us agree that Hungarian producer S Olbricht exudes plenty of novelty as well as mystery. To try and understand this better, I contacted Martin Mikolai, the man behind the make-believe legendary name, and asked him some questions.

S Olbricht's latest 12" Trancess is out via Bratislava-based imprint Proto Sites. Stream it in full right here.

Read more →

Can you start by talking about your history of producing music? How long has it been since you started pursuing your attraction to synths?

My first experience with electronic music was in 1999, when my father came home with a software called Music: Music Creation for the Playstation. It was quite fun, I learned how to create basic sequencies and stuff like that, but it was just a game for me back then. I started to make music properly around 2003. I changed from the Playstation to a PC and began to compose pretty lame drum and bass tracks. But as I remember it was a good term for learning a few more things about electronic instruments and effects, besides I really loved to learn things independently.

A few years later Gábor Lázár joined me in this revelation what was quite obvius then, since we were neighbours and spent a lot of time together. We bought a pair of turntables and played music all day. And obviusly we produced a lot of ridiculous tracks and a few ones what were not that bad, but the point is that we motivated each other for doing things better and I think that fact determined our whole career in several ways. Around 2008 things got more serious. I released my first breakcore tracks under the name 'Poor Jiffy' and released a few post-avantgarde shit as M. Mikolai. We made two fanzines with Gábor Lázár and Gergő Szinyova called Odd Rain and Odd Train (Roger Semsroth aka Sleeparchive joined us for the secod one).

Then in 2010 I went to University of Pécs, Faculty of Music and Visual Arts. I took Electronic Music and Media Art which seemed pretty useful after many years of self-education. By the way I wrote The Last Act of Dorothy Stratten in Pécs during the second semester, and yeah, in 2012 we established our wonderful label, Farbwechsel, with Daniel Jani, Bálint Zalkai, Erik Bánhalmi and Balázs Semsei. That was the year when SILF was born. And it was also the year when I released my first tape under the name S Olbricht.

What are a few synthesizers that you'd like to make sweet love to?

Hmm... Sh-101... She's a classy one. A monophonic bass synth with a hand grip... sounds perfect for me. I love the acidic sound with a little portamento. It reminds me of the early IDM tracks I've been in love with. And my other fav is Sequential Cirquits Six-Track which is a polyphonic/multi-timbral synth. It's quite difficult to program it and to change the parameters but we use it with a UC-33 midi controller which sends CC for filter, lfo, etc. I'm in love with many other synths too like JX-3P, Jupiter-4, SH-1, etc (yeah I prefer stuff manufactured by Roland) but it would take too long to describe all these machines properly. 

The careful maturation of Farbwechsel's roster is persistently impressive. Are we to expect more groovy 909 work like that of Christian Kroupa or is it back to the slasher soundtrack sound like that by Eril Fjord? What about any upcoming releases from SILF?

In the next few months we'll focus on groovy things. You can reckon on releases by G.W., James Booth, Norwell.. and a SILF EP is also coming soon. We'll release some debut vinyls also by Mike Nylons and FOR. And we also decided to repress a few things... so the next one and a half years seem quite busy for us.

Your otherworldly song titles are striking in their own way. They are half semantical, half not, harkening to science fiction's visions of the future of linguistics, or perhaps just hysterical or cryptic communication. Where do they come from, and how do they feed into your conceptual work around fictitious Stephan Olbricht and his love for Dorothy Stratten?

With these combinations of letters I try to reach impression of barely visible memos on a rubbed paper.. notes of a person who passed away a long time ago. The meaning of these titles based on my personal emotions and memories and somehow I think it's much easier to treat my past like a dead person... Like someone who doesn't exist anymore (I know, it sounds disappointingly dumb and boring).

I read in your interview with Electronic Beats that SILF came from Zalkai's term of endearment for his vintage synths. Meanwhile, S Olbricht is a character you created who actually got to be close to Stratten during her life in the1970s, as early synths were becoming popular. Is Olbricht at all your fantasy self, and is there a connection between 70s/80s aesthetic and music for you?

We were born in the mid 80s so we missed the synth-revolution and that's the reason why that part of history is quite myterious for us. Back in those days when the Dorothy album was born we were totally into the late 70s and 80s culture so it was quite obvious to find a connection between the story and the synths and the past. By the way, the particular story of Stratten and Olbricht was created by Bálint too, but he was absolutely counscious of my inspirations and intentions, what led me to make those tracks and that's why he formed a tale of a romantic-tragedy.

Does your interest in the murder of Stratten speak to your own interest in Playboy/vintage porn culture, or more so in murder stories and gore? Perhaps merely just the Unexplained?

Much more in murder stories and gore (vintage porn culture is not my biz). Mainly murders or suicides actuated by jealousy and loneliness. I consider myself an undercover emo, haha.

The Last Act of Dorothy Stratten is an eclectic, mostly melodic album, and furthermore a strong start to S Olbricht's discography; however, subsequent releases dwell more on the dissonant side. Your latest, Trancess, lends itself to the light from time to time, but mostly sits happily on the borderlands between uplifting techno and upsetting ambience. Farbwechsel overall conveys the same gamut. Does this back-and-forth say anything about an existing duality which you experience? Where does the inclination toward the sinister come from, although there is also plenty of moments of harmlessness and beauty in your music?

Hmm... honestly I cant answer that question. I mean these things are too close to me to see these differencies what others do.

Proto Sites is an exciting, pristine imprint that has already reinforced its competent style through its four releases. We're big fans. Can you say anything about your creation of your release for them? Did you approach anything differently?

Trancess was finished before Juraj asked me to give some tracks for Proto Sites, I did not approach anything differently. Honestly I really like to collaborate with different people from different countries, especially in our region. I want people to see that we know each other, we respect each other's work because that's the only thing what boosts our scene.

How has the wave of Budapest and Bratislava-based techno artists who've gained international laud changed the local scene? Is there any type of techno tourism coming in? Do you plan on continuing to call it base?

The international interest sensibly motivates our whole scene in Budapest. I mean not just the artists but also the club owners and promoters have started think differently. As I see it, they're much more open-minded, they are full of ambitions and cooperate much more easily. I'm really happy to see that because one of our main purposes at Farbwechsel was to show people in the Hungarian music scene that they should stick together instead of pushing themselves towards some kind of egoistic street cred competition.

Interview: Sean Nicholas Savage

16 Sep 2015 — Zachary Taube

So you’re coming down from a night of uppers, walking home from that party that surprisingly didn’t trigger your social anxiety, feeling a bit bummed because the person you had your eye on went home with someone else but, hey, they’re their own self, and jealousy is a useless emotion anyway (most times, at least). You look at your reflection in the window of the Chinese takeout and realize that you’re wearing lipstick, which you definitely weren’t wearing when you arrived at said party, that it actually looks pretty slick, and that it even matches the red of the neon dragon. You need more red in your life. It’s raining. All is well in the world because time is happening and even though it’s kind of an accident that you’re here, you’re still here and you’re gonna have a great time and drench yourself in red.

A bit poetic, I admit, but it’s hard not to be when talking about Montreal-bred balladeer Sean Nicholas Savage and his newest album Other Death. I had the pleasure to sit down with Sean a few days before he departed from his latest stint in Berlin. We talked about LA, spirituality, death, jazz and being a freak. Check it out on the link.

Other Death is out via Arbutus on September 18.

(Photo by Molly Nilsson)

Read more →

So Sean, tell me a bit about the new record.

I recorded in January and part of February. It was just Alex (Agor, of Blue Hawaii) and I and we were really, really loose and trying to experiment a lot, so we finished in LA… he went to New York, we met back up in Montreal. We didn’t have an album finished, we just had a lot of jamming. The LA part was really fun, but then it was a real pain, that’s when it got real tough putting an album together after that. We didn’t really know what we were going to do at all, I was in this weird phase of my life… I feel like I’m getting a lot more focused now. I just didn’t know up from down. Didn’t know what to do at all.

Was there something about Los Angeles, this mythology of LA kind of being this space for balladeers to go sing their songs? I feel like there’s this fantasy of the LA song club, of like Harry Nilsson or Randy Newman or Neil Young… there’s an element of tragedy to the city…

When I think of LA I just think of Motley Cru and Tupac. But you’re right, there’s lots of country, even Neil Young and Joni, but I wasn’t thinking of that at all. The record doesn’t sound like any of those acts at all, except maybe the first song "Propaganda", [it] has piano. We just, were gonna do it in Vancouver, because I wanted to do it some place really safe – we’re both Canadian and Alex is from Vancouver – so somewhere easy in the winter, but Alex was just “I can’t do it in Vancouver, it’s gonna be raining, I’m from Van, I wanna go to LA.” And it wasn’t even concrete that we were gonna do an album. And he found a place in Santa Monica, an apartment that we rented for a month that was just…. Not in the fun zone. It was a commercial zone near the beach, so we didn’t even have any friends who wanted to come out there.

But that’s the thing about LA, everyone’s friends seem to be so spread out. It seems like a really isolating spot.

It was super isolated. We would go to the beach every morning and blaze and then look at the waves and talk or not talk. And then we’d record all night. Normally I’d be pretty screwed up… I got pretty screwed up at the end of the album, I was getting stressed, because we were just not getting a focused thing. But I was reasonably sober for more of the album, which is very rare for me… it’s just the thing where I get really fucked up. It fucks my brain up. It’s a weird thing. But, as I was telling you before, the result is it still feels pretty fresh, pretty confusing thing for me to listen to. It’s got a lot of different sounds, the drums aren’t consistent, there’s just no consistent sound, and there’s no consistent vocal sound. Except that it’s crisp when it was mastered, unlike most of my other stuff, so it does fit together in a way. Then you put an album cover on it and it’s an album. I just think there’s a lot of variety in it, so I’m not sick of it. And I think when I make videos for the songs it will really bring it out to focus.

What sort of media were you consuming? What were you listening to, what were you reading?

I wasn’t reading very much, but we were watching a lot of anime, and I’ve seen all the Miyazaki stuff, so then we were watching other weird animes. I mean Alex… Alex would think I’m an idiot if I just said weird animes, but he’s an anime person. I mean Alex is a DJ so we were just blasting tunes on our monitors all the time. There’s a picture of him on the back of the cover of just him sitting shirtless blasting tunes, sitting blazing. We listened to some good radio out in LA, too. And the picture on the front was taken over at Adam’s (Better Person) place over a year ago by Moritz.

How is Other Death in some sort of dialogue with Other Life, especially in regards to Other Life being a breakup album?

Other Life is sadder, and it’s blue. Sad and blue, like “oh it didn’t work out, you know, it’s all ruined” but I’m still alive so I can just do something else.

That’s what I love about your songwriting, that on one hand you’re the epitome of a modern Romantic… a crooner if you will, but when you write about love and heartbreak you’re always very positive about it, very optimistic.

I feel like if you make a song and it doesn’t have a positive… it doesn’t even need to have to have negative at all. I feel like if you’re sharing music it needs to be beautiful and it needs to be fun, and then it should have some kind of lesson or message that you’re sharing with the people who are going to listen to it, because a lot of people might be listening to it… or one person might just be listening to it. It’s important for music to have a message in it, so if you’re going to talk about something heavy, or something negative you should come to a conclusion or else what are you talking about? You’re just whining. If you’re gonna whine, you gotta come to a conclusion, or else what are you doing? You’re just whining and then selling it? That’s not cool. So I always, when I make a song I try to have a point. It needs to have a positive.

So you don’t believe in misanthropy as a means for poetic justice?

Well there’s also that Vincent Gallo song that goes “so sad / so sad”, that stuff’s more like… the lyrics are more aesthetic or something like that. It’s kindof funny, and that’s cool, it helps people because they’re sitting around when they’re sad and it kind of makes you wallow in a nice way. But I’m more lyrical than that, so if I was like [sings] “she… left me / now I have nowhere to go” stories over, you know, it’s too specific to not have a point at the end of that. So you can do stuff, if you’re more lyrical, there should be some kind of twist or trick. The more twists and tricks and points and ideas you have in your lyrics, the better. So I try to have that. But this… actually the lyrics on Other Death are a lot less poetic and a lot more… they’re more lyrics than poems. I just wasn’t writing poems for a long time, I didn’t really want to write poems. I got so tired, it was so deep on Bermuda, I got really tired of being deep. I was really sincere on my last album, so now if I’m going to be really deep it’s not going to be sincere, I’m like… looking for poems so I wasn’t looking for poems before. The death thing, with Other Death it’s like fire, it’s more positive because it’s like “DEATH to all that” and all these references like “death to Other Life” and just slash and burning. And I burned it. It’s not like, “it’s over, start new” it’s like “I burned it all down, fuck it.” It’s a fuck it album.

Is it a rebirth though?

No! It’s just a death. The poem on the front means: ice is like “I don’t wanna melt, I don’t wanna melt…. oh no, I’m melting, we’re losing it.” Because ice is alone, you know, like snowflakes, it’s hard, it’s solid. And then the walls come down and you melt and you become the ocean, which you always were, you know? And you live on a water planet, and there are animals swimming and waves crashing and the beach and you always were water. It’s all connected, and you’ll become ice again. That poem came to me in a dream, this alien teen superstar, he kind of looked like Michael Jackson. I see colors in my dreams, I think other people see colors in their dreams, colors that don’t exist. They’re much more powerful. And this guy, when I see these alien people, but they’re not really aliens because there’s no space in my dreams, there’s just over there. But there are these people in my dream who are from over there, he had a face that could never exist. He was much more beautiful than any human can be, kind of looked like a fish, I remember, and he had these huge pupils, and he was just doing this talk at Wal Mart, he had this headpiece, and he was wearing this gold outfit. And he was spitting out these three poems, and I only remember the last one, which is that one I put on the album. But they all meant the same thing, which is like [frantically] “no no no no no!” and then you’re like “oh”, which is what happens when you die, for sure. The illusion is that we’re all a part… like the leaves on the tree are all a part of the tree. And then you die, and then you are what you really are.

Which is your spirit?

No! It’s the organism…. It’s all the energy in the whole thing. For me it’s god, I call it god. You know, you’re the whole thing, there’s this illusion that we’re not the same thing, but when you die you become it again, and you forget and forget and forget… it’s not linear, I don’t think reincarnation is linear you just always are everything. So one part of you is forgetting and one part of you knows at the same time, but there’s no time. Then the thing is… that’s a metaphor for death but it’s also a metaphor for like, all your relationships and all kinds of stuff like that. You know? It’s like… [patronizingly] “whenever things happen like this it’s always for the best” and like, that’s kind of ridiculous because it’s always for the worst, too. Yeah, so I got pretty obsessed with death in a way.

In the song "Propaganda", when I listen to you now elucidate your intentions to articulate some sort of universality, what are you trying to say when you sing “I’m a freak / wild and free”?

I feel like a lot of “hipsters” or “cool kids” around, a lot of my audience or whatever would relate to being “misfits” or whatever… and they’re younger, and then you get older and you find your way and it’s like yeah, you can get involved in stuff and this and that, but then they start telling me “you’re weird, you’re weird, why you doing that that’s so weird” and then you get older and now they’re like “okay, you’re Sean Nicholas Savage” and they put you in a box and now I’m like “hey… I wasn’t allowed in a box, and then I grew up outside the box, and now you’re going to put me in a box? Fuck you.” Just to let you know I’ll get involved in all of that shit, but I’m not in a box. And we got all this stuff going on, but hey, don’t forget we’re not in a box. We’re just the same freaks just walking around, not fitting together. You can lump things together, people lump things together so it’s so easy, you know? It’s so lazy. People want to lump things together, they want to categorize everything, and that’s just like ice. And it’s not true, and it’s fine, because you gotta do that so you can grasp reality, which is an illusion. But that’s what I’m sort of trying to talk about, it’s not really political at all. I just wanted to use the name “Propaganda” because I was sort of obsessed with this idea of propaganda, and Hollywood being the big world propaganda machine – if you want to get political – for a while, and I had some semi-political writing I was doing at one point with the record, and that song became a lot less political. I’m just… it’s not that I can’t say anything, but I live a pretty privileged life, so I felt at certain points it’s like… I wouldn’t want to whine like I said. It’s a tough thing, even like the song "Imagine" by John Lennon, it’s semi-political or something, he had to be a bit bland and spiritual with it. Unless you wanna go the whole Rage Against the Machine or Neil Young route. It’s a weird thing to be political in music, and I think that’s regrettable.

Really? How so?

It’s pretty regrettable. And he’s [Neil Young] done it more and more too, it’s very regrettable. People just turn away from it. You don’t wanna do that, so I didn’t try to do that, I think if you’re just… I would hope, I mean intelligent people use a lot of metaphors, so you can write a love song and it can be metaphors in that love song that totally apply to politics. So… I don’t need to write political songs, I’m just using the word propaganda, it’s just the whispering fear. And then you’re like… “no no no no no, I’m a freeeeeeak” and then I put my “yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” in there to prove it.

You write pop songs that are pretty delicate, pretty nostalgic in a certain way. What do you think about contemporary pop music?

You know what’s crazy? Even Chopin wrote pop songs. Even if he’s like [sings a Chopin melody] he’s just doing arpeggiators. If you just take off the arpegiators and make it a power chord or something, it can be really poppy.

You know that song "Jane B" off of Gainsbourg/Birkin? Gainsbourg ripped off one of Chopin’s Preludes and made it into this perfectly melancholy pop song.

Music only gets so… wild. But in jazz, I guess jazz is as crazy as it can get. Melodically and structurally.

I feel like jazz has been perfected to the point of progressive obsolescence.

People can’t learn it anymore. The thing is, it’s only gonna be good when someone’s pretty crazy, and now if someone’s learning jazz in today’s age, it takes such a studious type of person who’s probably not gonna be crazy cool. But there was a time when there were these studious people who were also really hip, and it’s just the same with classical… that someone could be loose and know all that shit. And now it doesn’t match, like if someone knows all this shit, they’re probably not that loose.

It takes such discipline to achieve technical perfection that innovation can so easily be compromised. I have so many friends who have studied jazz and they’re amazing technical musicians, but they can’t necessarily write a song…

Yeah, and all these songwriters really can’t play music at all. Nobody’s really playing guitar right now… a lot of pop musicians can’t play guitar or keyboards or drums. I think that’s fine, I think that’s cool. I like conceptual work.

Is your work conceptual?

Well a concept is just an idea. My work is full of ideas, it’s not really like… big concepts. A concept’s more than an idea, it’s a…

It’s a structure.

It’s more like a structure, a continuity. I’ll try to make the music match the lyrics, I’ll try to make everything as tied together, I’ll try to support the idea I have as much as possible. So it becomes the concept. And I love concepts, the more I can be conceptual the better, but not to the point of holding anything back. When you’re holding things back and you make a box – which can be a cool thing, I just don’t like it – but that’s when you’re being conceptual. I don’t like boxes.

Interview: Sun Araw

10 Sep 2015 — Lukas Dubro

Long Beach, California is where Cameron Stallones has chosen to live and to work. The musician is one of the most celebrated experimental artists of our days. The music of his alias Sun Araw is a synthesis of various styles of krautrock, electronic, dub, funk and afrobeat. With his recent project Duppy Gun he collects and puts out dub music from Jamaica together with M. Geddes Gengras, a modular synth wizar he met in the L.A. experimental music scene. Although Stallones is featured on the soundtrack of our fav video game Hotline Miami, he isn’t a big gamer. What he does like is playing pool, eating noodles and petting animals. We asked him a few questions about zoos, pets, his artwork, veggie food and dinosaurs.
 Read after the break.

Stallones and his band are presenting their latest record Gazebo Effect and are spinning records as Duppy Gun Soundsystem at ACUD on Sunday, September 13. No Fear Of Pop is media partner of the event. RSVP here.

Read more →

Your hometown Austin seems to have a cool zoo. Did you go there when you were a child? What was your most favorite animal?

I went there once or twice, but the most prominent feature of the Austin Zoo was these commercials they had that ran endlessly late at night, they had this persistent jingle “Gotta be Austin – Zoo!” But the commercial was mostly just pictures of a tan deer running around in tan grass and tan wood and chicken-wire enclosures. Maybe they had a big cat of some sort, but most of it was local animals, kinda budget. We only had five TV channels so I’d see that commercial several million times in a single sitting. My favorite animal was and remains the giant tortoise. I had some powerful moments with some at the San Diego Zoo as a child, my grandfather was in San Diego. I’m pretty conflicted about zoos, but I’m pretty conflicted about a lot of things in human civilization.

Now that you are in L.A., what do you do in your free time? Do you have a pet to take care of?

I had an amazing rabbit for several years named Sissy Spacek. She only had one eye and she was a fantastic companion. She died two years ago or so, haven’t ventured back into pet world. For free time, mostly I play pool when I can afford it.

The artwork of your 2012 album The Inner Treaty shows a picture of an animal – what kind of animal is that?

That’s a good question and I do not know the answer. The important thing for me is that it is a fish that looks like it’s having a good time with it’s beak. You might notice that the back of the record shows a pack of hyenas tearing apart another hyena. Something about those two things existing at once. Or those two things being different levels of the same thing, more precisely.

Animals are sort of like eddies of consciousness. They seem flavored a bit less evenly than us, and so we can see them exemplify some particular essence all the way through their being, from the shape of their body to their temperament and special skills like bats with sonar or whatever. That can be useful for understanding aspects of ourselves. Some ancient people thought that a person contains all animals. That’s basically saying the same thing: they are effective illustrations of different states of the soul. Effective most likely because we are made out of the same stuff on a consciousness-level, which is pushing into the physical world and making shapes in it.

Are you an animal-friendly eater, what’s your favorite meal?

I am not a vegetarian. Lately I’ve been exploring this Szechuan world in San Gabriel which is a suburb of L.A. that has all the best noodles. I hunt for the noodles.

Let’s end with something philosophical: Were dinosaurs the better humans?


Interview: Hauschka

08 Sep 2015 — Andrew Darley

Volker Bertelmann’s Abandoned City, released in 2014, has grown into a family of records. The artist known as Haushka has just released a live performance of the album in a museum in Yufiuin, a small picturesque town on the Japanese Island Kyushu, and called it 2.11.14. The record is made of 20-minute sections loosely derived from the original record. He has also released an album of additional songs that did not fit the main record and related remixes called A NDO C Y, a wordplay on Abandoned City. Together the three records sit side-by-side to complete a picture of Hauschka’s creative period that spans two years. His career to date is marked by his experiment in the prepared piano in which he used everyday materials to transform and challenge the sounds of the traditional piano into electronic soundscapes. We chatted with Volker about his approach and the many phases an artist can achieve in their career through reinvention. Read the interview after the break.

Read more →

Your new live album, 2.11.14, is a recording of a performance you did last year in the remote town of Yufuin, Japan, in its Artegio Museum. Can you tell me about the lead up to the performance?

Yufuin is a very picturesque small village – if there weren’t so many Japanese tourists, you would think that it’s a rice farm village or something. We found the museum, which had very modern architecture in between all these traditional houses. I was quite amazed since I was expecting an older concert hall. It only had the capacity for about 200 people and they came from all over Kyushu. Musicians who tour in Japan usually play in Tokyo or Osaka and then go home. I had played seven times in Japan and I’ve always tried to play in further out places. I realized that the sound in the museum was very good, and by chance my sound guy pressed ‘record’ which captured the whole concert. We listened back to it afterwards and we were pretty amazed by the sound.

You mentioned the architecture of the museum. Does the space and design of a venue impact your performance?

Totally. Also, the travel is something that always influences me. Travelling is very tiring; bands who are constantly touring need to be very strict in their rhythm or they are extremely loose. It’s very hard to find the balance and the right energy. This room we played in was long and rectangular with a very high ceiling. It was unusual because normally you play in square rooms or rectangular rooms and play at the small side of the room but we played the length of the room so people were very close to the piano. I was very surprised by the effect that it had on the whole sound. Even the piano I was playing was an unusual brand I didn’t know where the company came from.

Since the show was set in the museum, how important is visual art to your work and music?

It really depends. I love people working with my music and I love creating music to pictures too. But it depends on the purpose and the person who you work with. It can be great using visuals but sometimes it doesn’t make sense at all. I never do visuals for the sake it for it. Imagery can be destructive to music; I feel it takes focus away from the sound and sometimes you cannot properly hear the music. With big rock shows, everything has to be so visual and powerful with effects that it becomes hard to concentrate on the music.

The record contains versions of "Craco" and "Stromness" – it’s almost as if the songs themselves have disintegrated into a new form that mirrors the overall theme of Abandoned City. Do you see your songs as being fluid, with no definitive version of a song?

I think that there are elements that are defining of a song with regard to my prepared piano pieces. My orchestral arrangements are more strictly written and performed in the same way as they are written. With my album songs, it would restrict me and the audience if I was always playing the same kind of version over and over. Again, a venue can change the song. When I play in a church "Craco" would sound completely different to when I play it in a rock club and that’s because of the natural reverb of the place. Of course, mood comes into play– both mine and the audience's. Time is a big factor too – the way I feel at a Sunday afternoon show will be completely different to how I feel on Saturday night. I want to adjust my music to the situation.

How do you rehearse for a tour? Do you loosely know the songs and the way you want to present them or is it a more disciplined process?

I loosely know the themes and patterns that I will use but I give myself the freedom to decide on the spot. I start from scratch and work myself into a mood where I feel confident and then I try to find elements of older albums to implement them into the situation. With Abandoned City, I had the impression that the mood of music would change and develop as I toured it – I would find a new style that I could use for a new record. I would say that my style is now disappearing from the idea of the piano as an instrument and I see it more as a soundbox – something that I can use for all sorts of sounds.

Live albums can sometimes be risky to release in that they can either capture the magic of the performance and artist in the room or they don’t. Do you feel this album offers an extension of your work to listeners?

If you put me into perspective of the beginning of my career when me, Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran, Jóhann Jóhannsson – all these guys were working on piano music in an independent context – I’m very far away from that. I feel I could release this record on a very pure electronic label. I believe that there is a lot of romanticized clichés around piano music and its piano players. I want to escape all of that and create something that actually kicks me. As an extension of my work, I would see 2.11.14 as setting the path for the next album. It’s a bridge into something new.

In light of your prepared piano work and how you experiment with different materials to sculpt sound, do you think that we may be on the way to creating a new instrument altogether?

The piano is already quite great and I just expand its opportunities with other materials. I don’t think I or others have created a new instrument but you’re using 100% of what is already there, whereas typically only 40% of the instrument is played. All the people who have tried to renew the piano, in making the body bigger or strings longer, so far from what I’ve heard is not convincing. I have the impression that it doesn’t add too much to it. I think it’s worthwhile creating new sounds with the piano but also keeping its pure sound that is beautiful. I don’t hate the original sound of the piano but I’m trying to find how far I can go with music that interests me.

Can you remember the first item you used to experiment with the sound of the piano?

I was in Wales recording my first album Substantial and I used Christmas cake cellophane wrapper to create hi-hats, which made me realize I could use something different on each string and use it in a way a sampler would work.

You mentioned Max Richter, whose work is continuously called ‘neo-classical’ alongside your own. In its broadest sense, this refers to music that incorporates classical instrumentation with modern technology and electronics. Similarly Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds have been framed in this way. Do you identify with this term?

No, not at all. Comparing or putting Max Richter with Ólafur Arnalds in the one box is impossible. There’s a completely different attitude behind it. I would say Richter’s music has a much deeper impact – it was already there, way before Ólafur, and I feel it is very deep in a way. I have the impression that guys like Ólafur and Nils are much younger and they pick up on all the stuff that is working well and put it together – which is totally fine.

All the guys I know who work with piano would never consider themselves neo-classical composers. I think this term is completely irritating. It suggests something that is already there or existed because ‘neo’ means “new” suggesting a new invention in classical music, but I don’t hear any classical music in any of those composers, besides some of Max Richter’s work. All the rest have so much independent rock and electronic music involved, rather than Debussy and Ravel.

When I started in 2004, I was never thinking about being grouped with Richter or Jóhannsson – I just liked what they were doing. I really tried to find my own language. Of course, you are attracted by certain things but on the other side you want to find your own identity. With this neo-classical genre, it suddenly becomes a brand. There’s this assumption that everyone in the historical line of piano music all know each other. It was very funny because when I played in Moscow someone said to me that they love neo-classical music because we all support each other. But that’s not true – we may know each other but there’s some that I don’t know at all. There is also difficult relationships between people, they may have met each other at some point and didn’t work out. There is a possibly a renaissance of piano music with a huge amount of young piano players coming up.

Sometimes I feel that music journalists have no idea about who they writing about and put so much personal empathy in their review and forget to write about the music itself. I’m very glad about positive and negative reviews because I can get a perspective of where I’m standing at any one time. Maybe a guy from Pitchfork is reviewing one of records as great, then the next one is bad; sometimes this helps to form your own opinion of yourself. You can choose to accept or reject what they say. I would love to discuss my music with someone who wrote about me to find out why he is thinking in a certain way.

We all have stagnation and we all have phases of growth. You can’t always grow in the same direction – you have to make decisions of where you want to go. I would say that the potential of an artist starts when you discover that he has the possibility to make a lot of moves in his career. Not only by recreating his art that was once successful because that will cease at some point, so you have to constantly find new angles or things that are interesting to you. You should never be scared that your main audience will disappear.

In 2013 you made a documentary piece with Tori Amos called Through The Night, in which you travelled around Berlin sharing your experiences, exploring the piano and playing music together. Both of you studied classical music at some point in your lives and ultimately found your own path and relationship with the piano. Did you learn anything from her or take away anything from that night?

Tori Amos is a wonderful person. It’s not often you become close with someone you’ve been listening to their records since you were fourteen. You can always learn by meeting people that have a career; you can learn from their attitude towards things and what they are struggling with. She’s a great example of an artist who has a lot of periods in her career; you can see that there have been phases when it doesn’t have the edge it did at the beginning. Yet she has reinvented herself and tried new things. I think her last record, that came out after our documentary, was very good and I was delighted to see she was playing Primavera. With Tori, when you sign to a big label like Universal, you can lose the attachments to who you are because you become a product and sometimes you can’t even do what you want to do. I think she feels she is now coming back to her own roots.

I’m a huge fan too. From what I understand, she had a difficult time in turning fifty and her place in music amongst all the younger artists. 

That’s an issue of course; you see younger guys and they pick up their audience and maybe they are closer to them. I was always surprised that my audience was so young – normally you would expect that people who come to your shows are as old as you. I feel my music escapes the hipster area, which I like. You see how they follow a certain musicians for a while and and then jump when something new comes along. They don’t stick with you. I’m a big fan of continuity and the only way I can continue is if people stay with me and are interested by what I’m doing.

 It’s about building a relationship between the artist and the listener.

I totally agree. Even if you take a break from the artist that you like, it doesn’t really matter because you can come back and find something new. At some point, every artist faces their peak and find their original energy is not there as much anymore. If you are able to reinvent yourself, that’s a big gift, and I think Tori is someone who is able to do that in a very nice way.

Have you ever felt like you had to reinvent yourself?

I’ve done twelve albums now and I feel like I’m reinventing myself with every album because I don’t want to bore myself. I could play every night with my ping-pong balls and make the same jokes at every show for years and years but people will come back to my show and say “Oh man, this guy sucks completely!”

You also have another record out, A NDO C Y, which cleverly uses letters as if the original record title has disintegrated. What relationship does this have to Abandoned City?

There was so much music unreleased that we wanted to put it out separately. I was a fan of doing little side releases, 2.11.14 which is live component and A NDO C Y is the remix and extra songs that couldn’t find a way on the main album. They’re not B-sides because I really love them. Now we have three vinyl records that sit together as a set, which reflects two years of work. I wanted these side releases to feel as if they complete a picture. The cover of A NDO C Y is the same album cover as Abandoned City; we left the cover out for a couple of months in the rain and wanted to see which letters were left over and that’s the title!

The theme of Abandoned City focused on the idea that when something ceases or dies, something new is born out of it – the world around is limitless. Does this sentiment stretch to your musical approach in that where other musicians may see an instrument in a very uniform way, you try and see past that?

What I’m trying to do in a way is a very simple thing. I was born a lover of music that is very physical, like dance and hip-hop. I love music with bass and rhythm but here I am as a piano musician. In piano music, rhythm and bass is not happening intentionally; it’s much more to do with movement, melody and warmth. I try not lose the instrument to my other love. That’s why I’m trying to expand the sound of the piano as well as integrate it in its traditional sense. My performances are not there to make a show – if I wanted that I would install a big light show and I would get bigger but I’m not interested in that. Inner growth is totally fine but I don’t believe in things needing to grow constantly, that’s a big mistake. It puts you under pressure and awakens a weird sense of yourself.

Why should I change from the prepared piano if I’m not finished it? If I want to make a guitar album as my next record, I will do it. I don’t know if the fans I have are coming with me. I don’t want to lose my fans but I’m not also there to please them. That’s the difficult part because some fans may think you have to be loyal to them and I don’t know what loyalty is in that situation because you don’t know each other. You are connected through a love of music. People who I adore like Nick Cave or Tom Waits, they are older but always remain fresh in what they are creating. I feel this is most important ¬¬– you do what you want and people will come with you.

2.11.14 and A NDO C Y are out now.

Interview: LYKANTHEA

23 Jun 2015 — Henry Schiller

In her video for "Parturition" ambient artist Lykanthea walks slowly from an ancient Etruscan burial ground before settling in the sea. The mythic, almost otherworldy video is fitting: The Rome-based Chicagoan, whose real name is Lakshmi Ramgopal, wrote much of the EP Migration while studying ancient ruins on the remote Greek island of Delos.

Last week I spoke with Lykanthea over email about her time spent on Delos, the Sumerian mythology that inspired her EP, and the difficulties of pursuing a music career and a PhD at the same time. Check out the video for "Parturtion" below, and read my interview with Lykanthea after the jump.


Read more →

To start things off, I’d be interested in learning a little more about how Migration came together in Delos. Was there some point in your time there when you decided to record the EP, or was it something you had been thinking about beforehand?

When I went to Delos, I was in the early stages of researching my dissertation and needed to visit the island to study and photograph some of its archaeological ruins. I had decided even before I left the States that I wanted to start writing my record while I was traveling, so I brought a tiny Akai midi controller with me to Greece. I would get up at 3am in the morning, thanks to jetlag, and fiddle with the controller while I sang into my laptop until the sun came up.

How much of the EP would you say was recorded on Delos? How much of it was put together when you got back to Chicago?

The record was written and recorded all over the place - on Delos, in Athens, in Chicago. "Telos," which I wrote almost in its entirety on Delos, remained the least changed throughout the writing, recording and mixing process. I spent a lot more time agonizing over "Aphonia" and "Hand and Eye," since I spent months rearranging and rerecording them in Chicago. In the end, everything came together at different times and places. For instance, I didn't touch many of the low-fi vocal takes I recorded with my laptop mic for the demo of "Telos," since they included quirky little ambient sounds that the mic picked up from the chair I was sitting in while recording. But I replaced the original vocal parts in other songs with studio retakes in Chicago. That's also where I added guitar and live drums.

How did the experience of being in such an isolated place influence the songwriting? Did it push the record in a direction that your music may not have been going in before?

I'm sure it did. I didn't consciously set out to write a dreamy, inward looking album, especially since my old band wrote electronic dancepop. Initiating my first solo record while living alone on this rocky, raw, mostly uninhabited island put me in a mindset that helped me go deeply inward in a way I hadn't experienced in songwriting before. That mindset stayed with me for a long time after I left. I think it's what made the album's world feel so complete in the end, at least to me. And maybe even a little solipsistic. I'm speaking to myself in it because I'm alone.

In addition to being almost uninhabited, Delos is pretty famous is Greek mythology as the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo - I was also curious as to what kind of influence mythology might have had on the record.

The Sumerian story of the goddess Inanna is the original inspiration for a lot of the ideas contained in Migration. Inanna is described as a terrifying force of creation and destruction who voluntarily makes her way to the underworld and is then involuntarily held there against her will. The process of entering and finally leaving the underworld changes her, since it forces her to confront her weaknesses, her dark sides. I was immediately drawn to the Sumerian myths that frame these ideas of birth and death, of claiming yourself despite yourself. I wanted to build on their narrative structures and symbolic language to make myths of my own.

Is an interest in mythology what lead you to graduate work in Classics?

Actually, no. I've never been that interested in Greek and Roman gods. I headed to a grad program in Classics because I'm a historian at heart. I want to know what people did and why, I want to know how they come to understand themselves. Mythology definitely plays a part in self understanding. But for me, it's the people, not the gods, who pull me in.

There have been a couple of other artists who have balanced very interesting recording projects with academic commitments. Do you think there’s anything about the academic lifestyle that contributes – positively or negatively – to your work as a recording artist?

I'd say there's plenty of good and bad. Being a grad student has given me lots of freedom to decide when and where I do my work. I've been able to spend a lot of time on writing music and touring in addition to being a researcher and teacher. It's amazing to be able to do that. Plus, my academic field allows me to travel, and that travel changes me and gives my music a lot of texture.

But it's also hard being an academic and a musician. Plenty of academics think that peers who use their time for serious, non-academic work are unserious about their academic work. I've received comments about this throughout graduate school. That's really hard, to feel like you can't be yourself in a community you're part of, to feel like you have to hide an essential part of yourself.

Do you have a community of artists – removed from the graduate community that you’re a part of -  that you work with frequently?

I do! Musicians and designers and artists, many in Chicago and the rest scattered around the world. I know a lot of them through social media networks, and those relationships have yielded a lot of amazing collaborations, like the capsule collection with Hvnter Gvtherer and the video with Krist Mort. These relationships have been so creatively nourishing. They've pushed me to keep raising my standards and also defy any instinct to fit into any particular genre, musical or otherwise. It's important to work with other people, otherwise you get stuck in your head and develop an ossified way of thinking about things.

Speaking of your work with Krist Mort: the video for “Parturition” was shot in an Etruscan burial site at Orvieto – how did the two of you decide on that particular location?

I've been drawn to the textures and gloomy interiors of Etruscan tombs since I first visited them in college. They have a weird, alien quality, maybe because they're architecturally less familiar to people than, say, Roman ruins. They immediately came to mind when Kristina and I decided to shoot the video. Since Migration deals partly with the idea that we emerge from phases in life as new people, I wanted to shoot at a necropolis, which literally means "city of the dead." Our original plan to apply for a permit to shoot at a site at a town called Cerveteri. The permit was rejected by the division of the Italian archaeological commission that runs that site, probably because the video has nothing to do with Etruscan archaeology. So then we applied to shoot at Orvieto. Amazingly, the request went through.

You just played a spate of shows around Europe – what kinds of recording software and audio devices are part of your live repertoire?

My live shows are mostly improvised versions of songs from my album. I do a lot of singing, which I loop heavily and run through a mix of EHX and other pedals. I also play synth parts with a midi controller hooked up to my laptop, use backing tracks and play a guitar with a cello bow. In the past I've performed with choruses, clarinetists and violinists onstage, and I'm hoping to make that a more permanent thing. Having more people onstage makes the music bigger, more texture, more energized.


Interview: GABI

12 Jun 2015 — Zachary Taube

I first listened to GABI’s Sympathy on a ride around Berlin’s Ringbahn. It was one of those bright-yet-cloudy Berlin afternoons where you’re not quite sure where the sun is, and you’re overwhelmed with just how white the sky can be. Sympathy is equally overwhelming; nine tracks of elegant, sensitive, whimsically explorative and intuitive composition, drawing upon an amalgamation of genres ranging from orchestrated minimalism to experimental pop, electronic composition, Balinese gamelan and arcane folk.

GABI aka Gabrielle Herbst is trained in both composition and vocal performance, and it shows; she breaks the voice apart, down into its most basic elements, and composes from that point of reference. Sympathy is less about what Herbst sings (her lyrics are sparse, minimal, and at some points nonsensical) but about how she sings it. She truncates the voice into short bursts or articulation, hocketing with nothing more than a short expulsion of breath to form a skeleton around which the rich fleshiness of her cry, the anxious hesitance of her stringed orchestrations and the eeriness of distant percussion can wrap.

I sat down with Gabrielle a few hours before her recent show at Acud in Berlin to talk about Sympathy, intuitive composition, longing and synesthesia. Check it out below.

Sympathy is out on Software.

Photo by Amanda Hatfield.

Read more →

Your music is compositionally very vivid and ethereal. How do you experience music? How do you want people to experience music and how do you want people to experience your music?

Well, I guess that I have a lot of different influences. I come from more of a classical background, so I myself have a really strong, deep background of studying classical instrumental music, and then studied composition at Bard with Joan Tower and also Marina Rosenfeld and Zeena Perkins, who was a visiting professor at the time. So that’s a huge influence for me, as well as all kinds of world music growing up, pop and rock, pretty much everything was in our household, folk, Americana. So for me music is, simply put, music is music, you know? And I like to not pay attention to thoughts of genre while I’m composing. Though I’m really interested in music that has a conceptual intellectual framework that drives it, my music does not have that, so I like to compose from a really intuitive place and write music that just particularly speaks to me. It's either something that I want to hear or something that, you know, really describes the state that I’m in at the moment or a feeling or a vision that I think is really inspiring in the moment and share that with people. I want people to go into a state when listening to my music and it's not really meant to be…well, it can be anything.

Of course it can be anything.

I hope that it kind of engulfs people in a sensual way and creates a state and mindset for them that maybe brings them to new thoughts or new feelings of themselves.

Sympathy especially feels like such an organic album. I was listening to it and hearing all of these influences, from Bjork to Reich to John Adams, especially when the songs really start to break down. What’s your process of composition?

Well what you were just saying, you know, [is that] the music has a lot of abstraction. But it's very deeply personal, so it’s sort of meant to be – not even meant to be, it became – a state of mind. As an album, it’s a state of mind, it's very organic to me, it’s very intuitive. How do I compose? Well, it really depends on the project. I also compose in a more classical vain, and I wrote an opera last year which was a fully notated score for a chamber orchestra of singers. That was composed in a way where I notated every single instrument. It was a very…classically composed piece, very set-- a set narrative and language for the conductor to take and work with the musicians and pull it off in three rehearsals, because everything’s there in the score.

With this album it was much more…there are certain notated sections and a lot of un-notated sections…I wrote most of the songs from a place of exploring my voice, not sitting at a piano and writing down specific notes, but experimenting with electronics, my voice and my pedals…my really simple loop pedal, and sort of creating layers and sounds I was drawn to and realizing that with my self, you know, I could create such a huge sound. And so that became the palate of the album, me exploring new terrain with my voice in solitude. And then I brought those songs to musicians who I work with, my band right now, and I said – or I notated – certain things. I arranged parts for them from a very vocal intuitive off the page free form place. So, very different. I have two sides to myself…there’s Gabrielle Herbst and then there’s GABI. And they’re different mindsets. I think they influence each other quite a bit, but they’re different personas.

The whole project is shrouded in a very specific aesthetic. Everything is coated in this whiteness and this purity. How much does visual culture play with your music, persona and (alter) ego?

When I’m composing, I see things very visually…I see music.

Are you a synesthete?

I don’t really know, I do know that when I listen to music I see different colors and work from that place, so music for me is both felt and seen. It’s like vibrations in your body and visual fantasies. So visuals are super important for me always, but visual culture I think is…in the age that we live in now is a huge component of getting to know a musician and understanding and connecting with them. I’ve been working with Allie Avital Tsypin, who’s a really close collaborator, and it’s nice to work closely with someone who really understands you and your music. It’s nice to have that relationship when creating visual elements to the music. I want to go much further with the visual components of my live set.

There’s so much longing in Sympathy, especially in the last three or four tracks.  There’s this ache in it that’s so painful on one hand, but on the other it’s almost sublime. Do you feel like Sympathy wants to ask questions or to provide some sort of answer or closure or resolve in that longing?

I think both. It’s interesting that you brought up the idea of longing, because that’s really true. There’s a lot of that feeling in the music, but that sublime element that goes along with that is this sort of realization that the pleasure doesn’t exist without that pain and you need the two to define each other and you need the one to know what the other means. That’s the sublime uplifting nature of the longing, is to realize that it needs to exist and to indulge and have a catharsis and take it as it is and give it…accept it. That’s something that I sort of found for myself through the album that I hope can reach other people in the same way and [be] pretty uplifting for them. And, in the same way, I love the idea of people enjoying it, getting into a state while listening to it that is exploratory for themselves and brings them new sensations or new questions and is ultimately a soothing and loving experience.

You’re opening for David Longstreth soon at David Byrne’s Meltdown. That’s a pretty big deal. How’s it feel to be recognized as a peer in such an early stage of in your career as GABI? What’s next other than finishing up this European tour? Are you touring the States? Are you recording more? Collaborating?

Kind of, all of the above…I’m doing some collaborations, various ones, that are in the works or starting, so hopefully those will emerge soon. I love collaborating with people and interpreting their music with my voice, it’s really exciting. The dates in August are being set right now, so there will be another European tour around those dates. And we’re playing some US dates this summer, and a bigger US tour in the fall. So yeah, I think that the live show is a really important way to reach people. And I think where the label and I were prioritizing that as a way to connect with people. As you’ll see at some point, the live set is actually a really different experience than the album, which it always is with bands, but I think with this case performance is really important to me, a big part of reaching people. So, a lot of performing, and I’m already thinking about the next record. I’m really excited to write it. It’s not there yet at all, but I’m already, you know, imagining songs and thinking about new songs and we’ll probably start trying that in later shows, because that’s so much fun.


Norway According to Boska

11 Jun 2015 — Lukas Dubro

I first met Jon-Eirik Boska two years ago at Torstrassenfestival in Berlin. Ever since, I am impressed by his work. Aside from his dance music project Boska, he plays drums with my most favourite Berlin band, Fiordmoss, and for Kaia, a new pop musician who just moved in from Copenhagen. In April he toured Norway with a jazz trio, and over the years has played various styles and genres, from Senegalese music to the orchestral Star Wars soundtrack. Jon-Eirik is somebody who lives and loves what he is doing. He tours, plays, records, teaches and practices more than anyone I know-- maybe he got it from his father who used to play in the famous '80s pop band Ken Dang.

Jon-Eirik is a storyteller, and I've heard many about his hometown Volda in Norway and all people he's met and places he's seen along the way touring through Norway and other European countries while playing his beautiful music to the people. With the recent release of his new EP, Cascades, I asked him if he didn't want to share a few of them. Read the feature after the break and listen to his EP below.

Cascades is out now. Get it over here.

Read more →

(1) The Brothers

My friends and I were djing at a party in Tromsø. It was amazingly fun, but at 3 o'clock we had to stop. That's how it is up there, the fun always stops at 3. And because of that there are after-parties everywhere.  So we ended up at my friends place accidentally because the door was open. Suddenly this "russ" (what we call high school graduates in Norway) walks in with a friend. Someone holds a short speech where he says the following: "It's really great to be here and to have fun. But we also need to remember that there are other places where things aren't so good. Like in Syria and stuff." We toast and drink to Syria and stuff. The friend of the russ also wants to hold a speech. But he is really drunk. He says something about "the man can hold his liquor." And proceeds to pour a tea cup full of gin for him and his friend. At the end of the speech he just drinks it. He was expecting enthusiasm. But the only thing somebody said was: "See you tomorrow!" He screamed for a while, shouting random stuff and punching his friend the russ. Finally he passed out, vomiting and pissing all over the rug. The host who is a doctor didn't say anything about it until then. I guess she was used to after-parties. Anyhow, she decided enough was enough and called for an ambulance, but they wouldn't get him. Then we called the cops, but they didn't get him either. So we took his phone and called his brother, who finally picked him up. When he walked in he said, "Yep, that's my brother."

(2) The Polar Bears

The next one is clickbait. We have these crazy friends who decided they want to do a concert in Spitzbergen. But these guys are cool kids, they wouldn't do their show in one of those settlements up there called Barentsburg and Longyearbyen -  you can tell by the name the first person there suffered so much that they had to call it that way. Instead, they wanted to play at one of the abandoned mining settlements from the soviet era called "Pyramida." There you can find a statue of Lenin on the foot of a mountain looking like a pyramid. Mining and eating walrus was the only reason why people would go up there in the first place. We got there by boat, because there are no roads. We took all of our equipment with us and power generators, because there is no electricity. We also brought several guns. Because it is illegal up there to leave a house without a gun-- polar bears could eat you. Yes, they eat people! There are a thousand humans on the whole island, and 3,000 polar bears. This is not fair, is it? After our arrival we walked right in to an abandoned movie theater. Everything was covered in a centimeter of dust because nobody had been there for decades. We cleared space on the stage and tried to set up some fancy canvases for my girlfriend Petra to project some visuals. They recorded a music video in there and had an exhibition. The third day we invited people to a concert - but remember: nobody lives there but polar bears. Literally. It's a 4-5 hour boatride from the closest place. Still: 150 people managed to show up. The lesson is: It was a better crowd than the average crowd in Berlin. And remember, we were at an abandoned mining settlement at the north pole.

(3) The Lyngen Alps

I toured in northern Norway for two weeks in May. I played with the father of a good friend of mine called Kaia in schools where we were teaching kids history and played baroque music in a modern way. The Lyngen Alps is a quite small area with mountains up to 1,500 meters high. Right now it's full of ski tourists too. All of northern Norway is very awe inspiring. It's full of these mad landscapes. You could drive endlessly without seeing anyone. No houses, no cars. The Lyngen Alps are particularly brutal. We were driving on a beautiful sunny day, the white mountains around us. We were on the way from one little village to the next. We were driving by the fiord and suddenly there was a lake at the foot of the mountains. We had to stop the car and to go outside. It was so magnificent. It was warm. Four geese took off from the lake, large black and white ones. Most of the water was frozen. I almost cried, it was so heartbreakingly beautiful. With our iPhones we pathetically tried to capture the splendor on our three inch displays. That's when a colleague received a message, which brought him back to reality  "I am getting an invoice," he said. It seemed completely absurd. When we arrived at the school we asked the people how it feels to live in such a place. They weren't impressed at all. "We are just used to it," they said.

Watch Boska eating the artwork of Cascades:

Review/Interview: Jenny Hval

10 Jun 2015 — Ethan Jacobs

On the opening track of Jenny Hval’s second full-length release Apocalypse Girl, the Norwegian singer quotes the Danish poet Mette Moestrup. “Think. Big. Girl. Like King. Think. Kingsize,” Hval punches with a soft whisper, enunciating the final consonant of each word so that you can almost hear the flicks of her tongue. The track is like a confessional overview of the album, sprinkled with jarring phrases that Hval pronounces carefully like “soft dick rock” over a backdrop of discordant, bending samples. While the word “kingsize” might inspire associations with the super-size-me mentality of the United States, the word here is more akin to Hval’s zoomed out, big-picture approach with the record. Even with softened, broader themes and more open space, her meditations have never been more poignant.

This may be Jenny Hval's second proper LP, but she has been making music since she was 19 when she joined a goth band called Shelly’s Raven (they couldn’t use Shelly’s Crow because it was too similar to Sheryl Crow). She eventually left the group to record her own music under the moniker Rockettothesky for her first two albums, which mostly gained traction in her native Norway. 2013’s Innocence is Kinky was her first eponymous release, whose critical praise more officially made a name for Hval’s brand of sample heavy, nonconforming pop music that guides blindly through spaces with smart and disarmingly confrontational lyrics. Although the soundscapes of each of Hval’s releases vary, her fascination with language and her ability to use it as a device of confrontation always remains central. On Apocalypse, her command of words allows her to explore broader themes like spirituality and death that she avoided in her previous records.

The last time Hval toured, her frustration with shoddy sound systems at various venues gave way to the erratic explosions of sound and fuzz on her 2013 release. The accompanying lyrics, via some form of mimicry, assumed a predatory, active function. Innocence deliberately objectified the human body using shallow definitions of language: The album begins with Hval saying, “That night I watched people fucking on my computer.Apocalypse Girl boasts the same amount of profanity in its lyrics, but the record more clearly capitalizes on Hval’s desire to create the softer, more emotional music that she deviated from on Innocence. Tracks like “Why This_” and “Heaven” are more sentimental simply because they are quieter pop songs, each element easily traced back to Hval’s aim to create spacious tracks.

With more afforded space for fragile emotion, her crude lyrics explore sexuality as something expansive and natural rather than further exploiting Innocence’s emphasis on a lustful, animalistic notion. For example the recurring comparison of the soft dick and a banana dissolves the sexual connotation of the penis as well as its association with power and success. By softening up (literally) and zooming out, Apocalypse Girl directs more attention to Hval’s intelligent lyricism, especially when it comes to sex and gender. “And when I touched you, I turned you into a girl, only for a moment,” Hval coos over a backdrop of soaring synths and gentle harp plucking on “Angels and Anaemia.” It’s not that Hval hasn’t tackled the issue of gender on her other records, but Apocalypse’s overarching quiet inspires more profound introspection than her other releases. The record leaves space for tender emotions and deep thought, which makes the pictures she paints more vivid and her own experiences more accessible.

Hval may have quieted down on Apocalypse, but her hypnotically shrill and crystalline vocals remain integral, especially when you consider the words they’re responsible for. In “That Battle is Over” Hval’s repetition of “heaven” is so piercing that it sounds like glass could shatter. It’s all very purposeful, though: Hval puts a sharp inflection on certain words and thickly enunciates syllables as if she wants you to hear them echoing in your head after the song is over. Her words resonate the most on Apocalypse because they are impactful in the album’s stiller environments. She’s can’t be easily figured out, but her zoomed out perspective on this album better shows us the bigger picture she was looking at.

Apocalypse Girl is out now via Sacred Bones. Continue reading for the interview. 

Read more →

Do you enjoy being loud and being soft?

At the moment I'm enjoying doing what we're doing live, but it's not so much about being loud anymore. I think I enjoy dynamics, but the way dynamics work for me always changes. So sometimes for certain period of time it can be about actual dynamics as in loudness and softness of volume but at the moment I feel like the dynamics are different, there's a different range and it's more about emotional content. It's more about something endearing and humorous or autobiographical and fantastical; it's between something quiet and whispered and something more like emphatic religious singing. So it’s not so much about the loudness as about the level of ecstasy or something like that.

There’s a softness, but contrasted with harsh lyrics.

Maybe this comes from experience working with very frank lyrics for a long time, but I feel like the lyrics this time, even though they have the same level of what people would call profanity I guess, it means something else now. In the sense of Kinky, most of it was focused on the gaze: people looking at other people as if the gaze is actually killing the object you're looking at. This wound being made by your looking at somebody. This time I don't feel like I'm using sexuality as something that's objectified and a natural part of life--something you grab like when you do the dishes, not something that you grab onto for the kind of successful climax, not something you look at and sexualize but more something almost frighteningly normal.

I was thinking on the last album that you were more aggressive and attacking certain ideas and really indulging in them, and this one I felt like is more--especially in conjunction with the way it sounds--it's more of a meditation on things. Would you agree?

Yeah, that's good. I also listened to a lot of Alice Coltrane. I listened to one album that she made in the 80s that's very spiritual called The Divine Songs. I listened to that a lot before I made the album..

What`s your experience been with the lyrics you write? Have people gotten more used to it? Do you ever get scary mail from people or anything?

Never. I just don't think I'm popular enough. I've had my share of reactions, but when it comes to direct confrontations with people who get annoyed by my lyrics, no. I also think that here in Norway people are more likely to have heard of me because I released a few albums here before any of my albums got any sort of attention elsewhere. So people have more of a history of hearing my work here. People find it weird, but Norway is quite liberal, or we think we are quite liberal. What people do here is avoid something if you find it confrontational,. Just avoid it. Make sure you don't ever hear it and we'll all be fine and have good times. I'm avoided a lot I think.

If I'm reading you correctly, I feel that I'm the same way. Confrontation is a beautiful thing, not for the sake of creating drama but just being straightforward with people. Have you always just been that way in not beating around the bush?

Oh, I’m not like that at all. I'm just like that when I write. As a person, I hate confrontation. I hate it, but all the people I admire can do it. I aspire to become better at it.

What's an example of a situation that makes you cringe because it's confrontational? What would that look like? Telling someone they smell bad or something?

I do love confrontational art. When you look for it, you can find really confrontational stuff. And there's a reason sometimes that things are called confrontational because sometimes it's just very hard to watch. But I do take a great interest in it. But when it comes to telling people that enough is enough or being extremely clear but fair, that to me is hard. I'm more of a conversation person. So the negotiations, the business of negotiations, that's not something I like. I think I could tell someone that they smelled, but I also think that I really wouldn't because it's OK to smell a bit. But the business stuff is a better example.

And so your art, your music is where you are able to explore that facet of being confrontational, and you enjoy that?

I enjoy being direct. It's the way I write. The way I write is pretty much the way I am too, but when it comes to being in a room with important people, I wouldn't speak like that. I wouldn't be in song or art mode, I'd have to speak normal language. And that is a different type of confrontation for sure. In my music, even if we're talking about lyrics, I'm inside a musical structure so I can dictate how the directness and confrontation are being put to the listener, and I can also find great freedom in the way that I compose the music and make the sounds align with the content of the song. So it's more about being free and working very freely allows you to be that way, but reality doesn't. Isn't that what it's like for everybody? There are some parts of your favorite things in life that make you feel free and then there is ordinary everyday life where you feel really restricted.

It's true you can only be confrontational in real life to a certain extent before you become evil.

But the people who can be confrontational and yet seem fair, those people I try to learn from.