After releasing her excellent Melody Elder tape via Night-People late last year, Pittsburgh-based musician Jennifer Baron (formerly of seminal group The Ladybug Transistor), recording under her moniker The Garment District, returns with a new 7 inch, dropped this week by French imprint La Station Radar. Of the three tracks on the single, premiered last week over at Tiny Mix Tapes, one is the Sonic Boom remix of the Melody Elder song "Nature-Nurture". The b-side is comprised of two new instrumentals, "Miraculous Metal" and the sample-driven "Vigor". We're happy to exclusively host the video for "Miraculous Metal", created by Ryan Emmett, and to have had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer about her work and the thriving music scene of her home Pittsburgh. Read the interview and watch the aptly psychedelic video below.
You're from New Jersey originally right, studied in Massachusetts, and spent quite some time in Brooklyn - so what brought you to Pittsburgh, and how would you describe the scene over there?
Jennifer: I was born in New Jersey in a beach town called Neptune. We lived in various beach towns when I was little: Asbury Park, Bradley Beach, Ocean Grove. I think that is why I am so drawn to the ocean. While most children here play in playgrounds or parks, our playpen was the sand and sea. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where we moved because my dad was transferred by Sears. I went to Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts, where I studied Art History & English Literature and was a DJ at WMHC South Hadley 91.5 FM, and where there was a terrific music and art scene. After that I lived in New York City, mainly in Brooklyn, for ten years, and decided to make a change when I moved back to Pittsburgh and had the opportunity to work at the Mattress Factory, a renowned museum of contemporary art and residency program. I make music in something of a cocoon. I completed this new 7 inch and Melody Elder basically in a vacuum of my own mind, blocking out some of the hazards that can sometimes be associated with any scene. Some of my close friends I feel most connected to personally and creatively actually live in places all over the world. That said, I am a social creature, and can be quite communal by nature; everyone is impacted by and thinks about their surroundings—whether they admit it or not. A sense of place weighs heavily on my mind, and I feel deeply that people should feel like they have multiple homes. My first true love affair with a city occurred when I lived in NYC. Now I am very compelled by Pittsburgh’s amazing topography, art scene, architecture, authentic neighborhoods, thrift shops, and record stores. One of my favorite things about Pittsburgh is its remarkable role in America’s music history, in terms of jazz, soul and funk (Kenny Clarke, Billy Strayhorn, Gene Ludwig, Henry Mancini, Beaver Harris, Roger Humphries), rock and roll (Fantastic Dee-Jays, Swamp Rats, Bo Didley's guitarist The Duchess, Todd Tamanend Clark, The Cynics) and 1950s/1960s pioneering DJs, teen dance clubs and pop hits. This is where tastemaking DJs such as Terry Lee, Mad Mike and Porky Chedwick created hits for many obscure groups and where songs like Tommy James's "Hanky Panky" were literally revived and made into hits—so music is in this city's fabric. The mix of grittiness and green here fuels my desire to make music. Pittsburgh’s architecture inspires me, with the Alcoa Building—our country’s first aluminum skyscraper—H.H. Richardson’s jail and church, and modern and Brutalist buildings by Mies van der Rohe and Paul Schweikher, plus Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces, and signature row houses built for steelworkers. People are surprised to learn that Pittsburgh is home to amazing sprawling parks, dramatic funiculars and vistas that are actually quite European, and you can get lost in the wilderness in state parks one hour from the city. Cities need these characteristics and so do I. In the past few years, I have seen inspiring shows here by Demdike Stare, KWJAZ, Spencer Clark, Dolphins Into the Future, Wet Hair, Khaira Arby, Hamiet Bluiett, Onra, Ducktails, Jandek, Bert Jansch (RIP), Van Dyke Parks, Spectrum, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Moodymann, Zombi. Thanks to an industrious arts collective, Pittsburgh is now home to VIA, an annual new media and music festival, that hosted the world premiere of RVNG Intl's FREAKWYS Ensemble (James Ferraro, Laurel Halo, Daniel Lopatin, David Borden, Samuel Godin) in 2011. I feel extremely honored to have been invited to perform at the third annual VIA Festival, which culminated with shows by Gatekeeper and Moodymann and an after-party hosted by 100% Silk.
Compared to Melody Elder, what has changed musically for you on the two original tracks for the new 7 inch?
Jennifer: I will leave much of that up to the perceptions and imaginations of listeners, and to you, to create your own experience out of my music. When I write music, I don’t concretely or consciously think about what might be changing or about a message or influences. I try to focus on listening to what is in my head and interpreting and giving it form via sound, instrumentation, melodies, and texture. My hope is that it takes on a new life that is out of my control cerebrally. I genuinely hope that meaningful relationships and visceral connections are formed between listeners and my music. When writing, I listen closely to a composition to figure out what is the most authentic way for it to be given a permanent record in sound and try to shape the melodies and structure I hear as they develop naturally. Sometimes there is improvisation involved, and at other times my process is highly calculated.
Why only instrumentals?
Jennifer: I have always been very interested in relationships between sound, instrumentation, melodies, and texture, as made by a wide variety of instruments--from my own experience in previous bands to '60s and '70s horror films to BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneers to contemporary installation art, and an overall hyper appreciation of found sounds around me in daily life. Much of Melody Elder, which is a 40-minute tape, is instrumental music, so to me "Miraculous Metal" and "Vigor" are natural extensions of that album, with new elements of course, and they reflect my personal sensibilities in terms of writing and recording music. I wrote "Miraculous Metal" soon after I released my tape on Night-People, and am thrilled that is has found a home on vinyl, alongside a remix by one of musical heroes. I think the three songs work together almost like a mini-album, and that they explore a variety of my interests as far as making music. I love film scores and incidental music, and the idea of stretching what the traditional definition or perception of a composer is in pop culture.
Where are the samples on "Vigor" taken from?
Jennifer: "Vigor" includes an assemblage of audio snippets I recorded over several months' time in my western Pennsylvania environment. I constantly document sounds that interest me--for whatever reason. Regional dialects, computerized voices--experiences in places ranging from public parking garages to public access television. I love putting these random fleeting and sometimes surreal moments and experiences of sound into new contexts that are permanently recorded. I also like exploring the intersection of the public and the private via sound communication. "Vigor" is special to me because it is a long distance collaboration with Kevin C. Smith (The Artificial Sea), who is a circuit bender/sound artist now living in Oakland, California. I recorded a lot of Melody Elder with Kevin while he was living in Pittsburgh in 2011.
About the video, is Ryan Emmett a friend of yours in Pittsburgh? Did you take part in the creative process?
Jennifer: Ryan Emmett is a Pittsburgh-based artist who is a friend of mine. He runs an experimental tape and limited-edition release label called Dynamo Sound Collective and performs as Hunted Creatures. His creative output includes video, sound, performance, music, DJing, design, illustration and event curating. I asked Ryan to collaborate with me on my video presentation for the VIA Music & New Media Festival, which took place in Pittsburgh, October 1-6, 2012. The Garment District was invited to open for Julia Holter at The Andy Warhol Museum during a VIA audio-visual showcase. Ryan put together our video production using my existing videos, and he also created new videos for two of my new songs, including "Miraculous Metal". I sent him images and video footage to consider, and he created new imagery, and we bounced ideas of of each other over before he created the final video for the song.
And...what's up for you next?
Jennifer: My new 7 inch and video are officially released this week, and I also just submitted a new song to a digital compilation being organized by the great label Moon Glyph. This fall and winter I will be finishing up new recordings that I started over the summer. Some of the songs feature full band arrangements, including drums, guitars and bass. It’s been satisfying to hear the songs take on a new life. I also continue to record new stuff at our totally lo-fi Golden Mountain Frequencies home studio.
What was the idea behind the video?
Ryan Emmett: The song gave me a sense of slow drifting and travel. American road trip films and German Krautrock have a big influence on me to begin with, so I really enjoyed incorporating images of clouds that I shot on a plane trip from Olympia, WA to San Francisco, CA. Formally, I tend to focus on layering, texture and chance happenings with a lot of my work. Natural glitches are embraced and editing takes on an improvisational nature that reflects back into the final images. To create something dream-like can’t be overly planned! The Garment District 7 inch is out now via La Station Radar, with the artwork done by Seattle-based collage artist Jesse Treece, who used pages from Jennifer's vintage magazine collections to hand construct the intricate collages featured on the record's front and back covers, and labels. Order your copy over here. Melody Elder is available digitally via bandcamp.Stream all three tracks of the 7 inch below: