29 Jun 2014 — Henry Schiller
Gabe Holcombe is the founder of Chicago-by-way-of-Kansas tape label Lillerne Tapes and makes blissful bedroom pop as Vehicle Blues. Earlier this month Holcombe released his first 7" record - "Luke Song" - on Lake Paradise Records. "Luke Song" is a warbling bluster of soothing guitars and ambiguous, enveloping vocals. The perfect companion for a long weekend in the countryside or being stuck in traffic on the FDR, "Luke Song" contorts to fit the moment it needs to support. I spoke with Gabe over email about the theraputic qualities of music, best friendships, and what it means to be a bedroom artist.Read more →
Hey Gabe - we’re coming to the end of the first week of summer and I can’t think of a better time of year for your particular brand of hazy, shoegaze-y bedroom pop. Any big plans for the next few months in terms of recording or touring, or are you just laying low this summer?
In the past, I've seen summertime as a seasonal excuse to be unproductive and irresponsible. I'd like to think that I've moved beyond that point in my life, but it still gives me reasons to procrastinate and stay up too late. I'm going to work on a lot of tapes for my label, Lillerne Tapes, and begin the first steps in writing and recording an LP. I haven't been much for touring lately, but I am going to spend a couple weeks in July in the middle of nowhere to try and get away from Chicago and all the noise around me/in my head.
I’m on a train in Scotland listening to “Luke Song” and I have to say that the track is wonderfully complimented by the endless green fields and slowly rotating wind turbines gliding past my car window. Are there any particular images or experiences that you associate with the track; any places you think “Luke Song” ought to be listened to?
I often like to apply specific imagery in my songwriting, but "Luke Song" is actually a pretty imageless track. It has no set lyrics, and it's not about much in particular. I guess for me, it evokes more intangible feelings and moods than it does specific experience or images in my life. Clearly, it's a sad, melancholy song, but it makes me kind of hopeful whenever I play it. I guess this is an easy out, but that song can be applied to any feeling or setting you'd like. Cars and trains are certainly good places to be "feeling something" and have a song be applied to that moment.
You’ve been a pretty prolific cassette releaser, but “Luke Song” has been put out as a 7” – your first vinyl release if I’m not mistaken. Was there something about this particular track that you felt made it a better fit for vinyl than for cassette tape?
It just felt like a single. A lot of the tapes I've put out in the past are in the 10-20 minute range because I want things to feel cohesive and never tired or full of filler. Complaints about a tape being too short are taken as compliments, and I want to save any kind of long-player dreams for when I have a group of 8-12 songs that really fit and feel right in the same room together. The 7" was all recorded at the same time, in the same place, with the same feelings and thoughts going through my head. I don't want to clip together releases from all over the place. They should fit and make sense. All of these songs were recorded in a very large, airy warehouse setting. You can hear the space in the tracks. I thought that it would be great to have on wax to utilize the sound and space of a record, as opposed to the more compressed and hissy sound of a cassette.
I’m curious about how you recorded “Luke Song” – can you take me through the set up and process?
The three tracks on the 7" were recorded in a space called Lake Paradise on the west side of Chicago. It's a very large, relatively raw warehouse space where some friends of mine live or have lived, including my friend Jake Acosta, who runs the label of the same name. My friend Drew M. Gibson (Katrina Stonehart, Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk) set up some amps and recording gear, and we knocked out the three songs in a fairly short amount of time. Sometimes we would move the gear into the much bigger room of the space to get that kind of open, distant sound on a track. It was very utilitarian and kind of unorthodox, but the songs came out sounding the way I had envisioned. A dreamy, somewhat sad and oddly hopeful collection of songs.
On “Luke Song” you can hear some allegiance to groups like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. Am I off the mark, or is that kind of late 80s, early 90s dream pop an era of music you’re particularly interested in? Did you have any specific stylistic influences for this record?
I've listened to a lot of late 80s, early 90s dream pop and shoegaze. The bands you've mentioned have always been huge influences on what I like to listen to and what kind of songs I write. I could go on forever, but my holy trinity will always be Lilys, Swirlies, Unrest. I like a lot of pretty music that's buried in fuzz and hiss. At the time of recording this single, I was concentrating on a lot of ambient music as a means of stretching out powerful melodies, and sustaining and repeating certain ideas for long periods of time. I like the idea of obsessing over a certain hook or melody for awhile, and better understanding why I like it so much.
It’s mentioned in your press release that “Luke Song” is an ode to a friend. Presumably this is someone you were (or are) quite close to. Did you have things you felt you needed to say to Luke and haven’t gotten the chance to, or were you trying to create more of a totem to a cherished bond?
The Luke in question is one of my best friends. We have a cosmic bond. We live in separate cities now, but we're always talking to each other about our lives. Like I said before, the song isn't necessarily about Luke, but he may have been on my mind during the recording process. The whole 7" has a "friends-past-and-present" thing happening. "Waving Steps" is about moments of departure. Short, sweet moments and the end of those moments. "4 Tues" is about a kid that I had met in the graffiti scene in Kansas City in the mid 2000s. He passed away abruptly, and his existence and lack of existence has stayed with me throughout my life. He was one of those people who had that special aura of adventure and intensity that's hard to see in many others. It was a troubling period for me in general, and moments like that really cemented how temporary everything was, especially when, like I was at that time, you're a newly minted adult without much responsibility or a support system. I get nostalgic about the past, but I know that everything that happened back then stays with me today.
Your music is classified as bedroom pop, which I think is a fair assessment, but is one that gets thrown around so much I think it might replace “independent music” as a catchall for anything not released on a big label. Do you think categories are unfair to musicians or do you appreciate the sort of stylistic lineage they provide for up and coming artists like yourself?
I literally write and play music in my bedroom, so for me it's a perfectly fine descriptor for what I do. I think that sometimes people associate "bedroom pop" with "lo-fi" or "no-fi" kind of aesthetics, but I feel that it's so broad in scope that it's hard to nail down a sound. Certainly, it's not studio music. I'd also venture to say that it's not always a stereotype for it to be considered a loner's game and a solitary/solemn act, but the idea of "bedroom music" could mean anything. Many of my friends make dance music in their bedrooms, but nobody's calling it "bedroom techno" when it gets put out on a 12" to wide acclaim. I play, and often record pop music in my bedroom, so it's totally fair to call what I do bedroom pop.
You live in Chicago, which I don’t think a lot of people outside of Chicago (especially here in the UK) realize has a pretty diverse music culture. Are you a part of any scene in particular? Do you have a crew of artists that you tend to gig with?
I'd like to think that I'm pretty active in the DIY music scene in Chicago. For me, that entails going to a lot of shows, playing DIY shows, and releasing music for my peers and those around me in that scene. The music culture in Chicago is extremely diverse and widespread, and I enjoy existing in one of the smallest, off-the-radar corners of its universe.
I think there’s a perception of so-called bedroom artists like Daniel Johnston, R Stevie Moore, or Ariel Pink (though less so him these days), as being these strange, asocial, or otherwise enigmatic figures. Do you think of music making as a lonely process, or do you feel as though you’re making music as part of a community (whether it be of artists, colleagues, or friends)?
For me, making music is a solitary and therapeutic act. Much of what I try to do creatively would fall under that category. Chicago can be a very lonely place. It's not that I truly find solace in the music that I make, but I do find some sort of distraction in the process. It's a never-ending battle between myself and my mind. The community I exist in is tight-knit, but I feel like many of us have similar temperaments and lifestyles that keep us out of contact with each other. I can't always call somebody up when I'm feeling down, so I can escape for a bit and try to write a song. It sounds very trite, but it's a real and honest way to pass the time. Escapes are hard to come by. I can't even do drugs right. I'm almost 31 years old, and I can't express myself in the ways that I'd have as a teenager or in my early twenties. I was running across expressways and being bad and truly living day to day. I don't want to self-mythologize here, but it's helpful to put it into perspective. Distractions are not always lifetime sports. I see a future now and I want to try to do something with it. I work a day job to pay my rent, and when I get home I want to involve myself in music as much as I can. It's very important to have community, but it's even more important to have yourself be somewhat okay with who you are on a day to day basis.
No one would read No Fear of Pop if they didn’t care about listening to cutting edge pop music that Pitchfork doesn’t cover. Do you have any artists, albums or tracks that you’re particularly interested in right now?
Lately it's been mostly just pretty new age cassette tapes and Chicago rap music. Pretty much anything on SicSic Tapes, too.