FIJI “Fave Hours (Ft. Hood Joplin)” + Manicure Records Feature (exclusive)

31 Oct 2014 — Andi Wilson

Today we speak to label boss Tom Mike (aka Ghibli) regarding the background, aesthetics, and future on one of the most forward-thinking & online-based pop labels we know, Manicure Records. Along with the interview, NFOP exclusively premieres a mega-catchy single by their newest signee FIJI, titled “Fave Hours (Ft. Hood Joplin)”.

Take us back to when Ghibli started (which was a pretty house-y project at that time). Did you ever expect it to somewhat grow into running your own label?

I started Ghibli around 2010 and was just figuring out how to use samples and trying to combine my love of beat music and choral compositions. I rediscovered my love of disco along the way and spent the next few years trying to figure out how to blend these disparate pools of influence into one big ocean. After eventually getting tired of sending out submissions to people and not getting any traction with other labels, I started my own little corner of the internet for me and my friends. I absolutely did not expect the amount of support and recognition that we’ve received in the past ten months.

The sounds of Manicure vary from electronic hyper-pop, trance, club, to most recently twisting heavily-commercial pop hits. For example reworking Ariana Grande's "One Last Time" and tagging tracks as '#manicured'. Not to mention creating your own blends of singles by producers that I only assume heavily influence Manicure, like Sophie's "Bipp". Now we're seeing very young, emerging producers come into the fold such as Guy Akimoto, lilangelboi, and ponibbi. Did most of the relationships that consist of Manicure's roster evolve from the web or is everyone from the same (somewhat underground) community in Edmonton, Canada? Who is currently involved?

Below is who’s currently involved based on chronologically going through the Manicure Souncloud:

Jasmine, who’s based in the UK, was someone that I had been emailing back and forth for a few years before Manicure became a vehicle for us/her. We bonded over Jam City mixes and she’s been really important in expanding the aesthetic of the label.

My good friend Kara sent over some lilangelboi tracks last summer and I became obsessed with nightcore. After starting Manicure we got him up to do shows in Edmonton (he was originally based in Calgary). Eventually he moved here where he’s been thriving since.

DJ Cashinout (formerly DJ Debussey Turnpike) is from the states and we linked up through submissions that he sent to me after I started the label. He is really young and has a lot of potential. I’m excited to see what he has in store.

ponibbi came up to me at a party last winter and stole a joint out of my hand while I was talking to someone else and walked away with it. We’ve been close friends ever since and he’s become an indispensable part and a rising star of the label.

I heard of KLSLWSK through Tielsie’s Soundcloud likes and became obsessed with his production style. We signed him just before the JACK댄스 world tour and he played his first live show at the Vancouver stop with us.

I met Guy Akimoto when Simon Whybray (founder of JACK) brought him on the Canadian edition of the JACK tour. He was both incredibly kind and talented, a really rare combination. We all became super down after seeing him live and we signed him a short while afterwards.

As for FIJI, Beaux Maris is the single strongest/smartest/nicest woman I know in the world, and Hood Joplin is the turn up queen and adds a lot of depth and character to the crew.
I’m incredibly lucky to know both of them.

Beaux/ponibbi/HJ are all from Edmonton. Every other relationship has been built online.

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Have these projects been producing under the same techniques for a while or did they start based on the label and what you want to provide for your listeners?

I think everyone was just doing a more general or broader approach in terms of their content creation and personal aesthetic before they joined us. Since signing, I’ve been trying to refine or double down on certain elements in order for the songs to be the very best that they can be. I don’t think we care about other listeners outside of our group at all. We make music for ourselves first, for our friends second, and for everyone else last.

You also previously mentioned to me how some of the releases and even artists are built completely around aesthetic, such as the project FIJI. Are these new releases technically side projects of everyone running Manicure to keep releases as cohesive as possible? Or is it more of an idea to challenge the typical structure of how most labels release music?

FIJI is like Halley’s Comet. Something that happens at a certain time and place and fades away afterwards, hopefully making an impact. A lot of producers from the label teaming up and providing an aesthetic that doesn’t have a lot of coverage right now. It will mark the debut of two new stars on the label, Beaux and HJ and would be unfair to call a side project. It’s more of a one-off intense focus thing than anything else. Single-collab tracks are just made for fun. Usually because one producer has something the other one could use, or one person hears something more and wants to capitalize on it.

When you first announced Manicure with a somewhat interactive site, it was the first time I had seen any of my internet peers break out and really start their own brand. What influenced your design and philosophies behind the label? Even down to the 'Turn up!' tags. Everything is so on point.

It would be a lie to say that PC Music wasn’t hugely influential on Manicure. After following A. G. Cook and the other releases from last summer onwards, I knew I wanted to do something similar. Where the majority of things on PC Music stem very much from pure original content from Cook or his collaborators, I’ve always found inspiration from outside sources and trying to mimic them in my own way (poorly). This results in bizarro versions of the original and I feel like we’ve been assembling a team of people who do very similar things with the culture surrounding them. Everyone on the label has very strongly established aesthetics already. Thankfully they all mesh pretty well with one another.

As for the vernacular, Beaux and I for a literal decade, now joined by our other friends, have always had our own specific euphemisms. We tend to go through phases of abusing one word in lots of different, usually unconventional situations (e.g. ‘sus’). I have problems dividing the line between URL and IRL anyway, so eventually these mannerisms begin to leak out and affect the label. People seem to be down however, so thats a plus.

Soundcloud & Twitter seem to be the main domains for Manicure at the moment, pushing your artists to reach new audiences with not only growing fan-bases but also collaborations between the producers themselves. As the internet changes and becomes more saturated every day, how does the label plan to adapt to new online platforms & experiences?

Things are under wraps right now but we're expanding on the universe with additional interactive visual platforms. These things are tricky and they have to be perfect for launch so that’s why I’m being extremely vague about it.

We also just started an Instagram where we can post pictures of our painted nails so that’s tite.

Some of your artists (including yourself) are beginning to surface from the PC-realm to IRL performances. I saw you recently collaborated with the JACK댄스 party for their worldwide tour and you are beginning to plan events of your own. How do these collaborations happen? It reads and seems to be working as a beautiful way to bring cyberspace to reality.

With JACK it was very much a situation where I kept thinking and talking about it and eventually against the odds the collaboration happened. People who are leaving the internet to come to the parties seem to be having a good time. The trouble is convincing people who are out already and aren’t aware of the aesthetic or trends on Soundcloud. The internet can easily trick us into thinking things have way more weight in the real world than they do online. It’s important to balance out these extreme online aesthetics with real world tangibility and cohesion.

What does Manicure Records 2015 have in store for us?

More songs / more performances / more artists / more turn ups!

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the FIJI mixtape in early December. Check out some other highlight tracks from Manicure Records below.

Interview: Sound Locking With Katie Gately

27 Oct 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

The atmospheric sounds of a dentist's office are comparable to the metallicity and searing audio mutations of Katie Gately's work. Her new movement, "Pivot," out on Fat Cat October 27th as a part of the Split 12" Series, displays the usual Gately melodies which lead listeners to unexpected places while being followed by surreal lyrics and indiscernible buzzing that originated with Gately singing into her at home studio microphone. Around eight minutes into the track, we are left alone to some dissonant timpani-sounding drum being struck at a rate that reminds me of the ticking of a giant universal clock, before medieval vocal cadence enters, followed by all kinds of silly blaring horns and rhythmic banter. Just let it suck you in.

Since the FC Split 12" Series focuses on emerging artists, and because we've been interested in Katie's style for some years, I felt that this elevation would be a great opportunity to sit down with the artist and pick her brain. As it turns out, Katie is a friendly, funny, and exceedinly cunning individual. Here's our conversation held via Skype chat.

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We really need to get you to Berlin for CTM or something!

Oh yeah CTM invited me last year! They are so nice but I'm not a performer, more a studio person. I really aspire to be in the studio twenty hours a day!

Are you in the studio right now?

Yeah I am at home, just working around the clock on some music as I have a week off from more film editing [and bill] paying duties.

It must feel good, though, to do artistic clockwork.

Yes, when it is going well! most of what I spend time on though is the technical tweaking which isn't very artistic but it's good to get in those 10,000 hours!

Do you always decline playing live?

Yeah I've declined to play for everyone - my focus is the studio. After being at USC, the most important thing I learned was to identify my goals and stick to them and not get distracted even if there is pressure to. Does that make sense? I have a few records that are so time-consuming to make and with no budget and no help. All I have is my own slave labor to push myself along!

That does make sense, and I feel like it's a very self-respecting rule to have with oneself.

I listen to a lot of Aretha Franklin.

And this is where the whole "I feel like a cave dweller" bit comes from, right?

The cave part blows…so now I try on/off weeks instead of months at a time. Just dig in like crazy for a few solid days and then retreat a bit (get some sun!).

Sun is very important, and those shadows in the cave can start to get freaky! The world of seeing live music is so poignantly different than private listening. Similarly, the act of performing music really has nothing to do with the act of writing and tinkering with music in the private sphere, in the studio, because the latter doesn't involve performing. People still think the ultimate music experience has to be a live one. What do you think? And do you have any feelings about performance in general?

Yeah I completely agree. Performance blows me away but I also think of it as using a different part of the brain. I am more prone to listen to records (I cannot afford to see live music or movies or anything these days….loans!) Since I trained in film….I'm also just prone to think of sound as fixed and "locked." Literally, when you finish editing you say "picture lock" and "sound lock." So I draft and draft and edit and edit and do pass after pass until I'm done. Then, I honestly never want to hear my music again! I spent insane amount of time hearing it loop and loop as I mix!

Oh interesting! That's how a lot of people feel about writing, and once they submit/publish, they don't want to see it again, or maybe they're even scared to read it because they're brain will go back into editing mode or something. I mean that's how writing my thesis was for me. I'm trying to reengage with it, but I still can't get passed page three of the introduction.

Yes! I've always felt that what I'm actually doing is writing. Or editing in the same way a writer self-edits. Just because there are no instruments. Watching someone play an instrument is totally beautiful and mysterious to me. It's obviously the normal/sane way to make music, but I just can't play anything beside the computer and assortment of weird plug-ins. I have a friend doing her PhD right now and we find millions of parallels between trying to structure a record and writing a huge essay like a dissertation. It's a nightmare! But a self-inflicted joyous and indulgent one totally worth the effort.

So you said that, for you, sound is a rather fixed medium, one that you lock and save. Does that rule out other observations about sound being as fluent as water, spooky, and fleeting?

No! I don't rule out anything! I've just found this one way of making music to be right for me as a solo producer. I know it will morph and change. It's just where I'm at now, still a bit of a beginner with making tunes after all.

The process is still fluent, but the process at this point entails that the sounds you record and edit are to be contained and perceived as fixed? That's a weird half question.

Yeah, coming up with ideas is fluent - anything goes – then when I finish a song, because I make everything via editing techniques (no midi controller, no real-time singing but heavily processed voice-as-effect) it's just literally beyond me how I'd perform this kind of stuff! My computer crashes all the time because of the CPU i'm hogging to process this way you know? Imagine me live. I'd need three computers and like ten people helping me! it's totally worth exploring for sure….it's just that i have zero time! I am trying to work in film and make records and it's already like 90 hrs of work a week.

I totally just had an image of that being your live set. It'd be so trippy omg – instead of backing musicians you'd have a back up tech support choir moving around you while you sing and splice the real-time.

I just hope I live until I'm really old so I can do everything I want to do. That's my constant anxiety. Like 'please don't let me get the first case of Ebola in LA so I can release these six songs first. Then give me Ebola! I don't care!'

Aww you'll be fine! I want to back up again to something you just said – you feel like a writer though you're a producer. Virginia Woolf, who was a massive music listener, who took listening and representations of listening to a new level, famously wrote that she "pens to a rhythm," and that she felt like her novels were movements of music. Have you ever come away with any inspirations from reading VW, and do you think that crossing media (writing fiction like it's music, producing music like it's fiction or polemical), is especially important nowadays?

I remember falling in love with VW at a very young age and then well, I found out she killed herself (alongside a disturbing number of the people I've found so moving!). I wrote much more as a kid than music...I didn't make music at all. Reading was such a huge part of my childhood. Sometimes I think it's those earlier memories than most seeped into my mind and changed me – that awe at someone building an independent universe and just with text and structure!

So awesome, yes. Microcosmic construction.

Yeah I liked that she would spend obsessive amounts of time on a single sentence. I relate to that deeply. It's not even an aspiration for getting something "right" for the reader but just getting it right in the sense that it perfectly communicates something specific about how you feel. I don't know if there is even a difference. Her and Kafka and Herman Hesse were my favorites. Also, duh, Nancy Drew books. I read 100 Nancy Drew books. She was a cute little role model. I'm pretty sure all those books were ghost written and formulaic to a T but comforting for a little kid.

Holy smokes there totally is! Curating how you want your work to be for yourself is utterly different than making things as clear and stiff as possible for faceless readers. VW wrote about that, too. Do you have any thoughts on the popularity of synaesthesia/intermedialty in art nowadays?

Gosh I don't know much about that – do you mean the self-diagnosis of it? Or an intentional practice of bringing this into artwork and music?

I guess more diagnosis, and seeing it in other artworks too – what has accelerated its popularity?

Haha, I don't know. Self-obsession? There are a lot of gluten allergies in LA. I tend to veer away from diagnosis and categories just as a knee-jerk bias.

Labels, categories, contagions.

Yeah they're so comforting but often just not even remotely accurate. My brother the other day asked how I'd describe my music and I said 'I have no clue. listen to it and decide for yourself. I'm just as likely as anyone else to totally describe it incorrectly!' It's not easy describing things. Thus, this is why I did become a writer!

That anecdote reminds me again of how superficial the uses of categorizing are – it's just for short answers and explanations.

As long as someone doesn't compare me to Lil Wayne or something I'm like 'oh I can see how that description makes sense' – ha! it's incredibly hard to talk about abstract art (i.e. music and sound are literally invisible to the eyes!)

Exactly! That brings me to the next question: I usually like to ask artists what their aural, as opposed to musical, influences are; but, since your work is already quite abstract, broken, and heavily coded, I want to ask what your musical influences are, as they are not very evident in the music. Besides Aretha Franklin.

[At this point we go off on a long tangent about sonic torture and Satan and Katie doesn’t end up responding to this generic question which I respect]

Hey how was the dentist?

Oh, great. I wish I could go every day. The dentist is like fun to me. I wish I could afford weekly bone scraping and feel newborn every day.

You like the sounds of the facility? Have you ever had an MRI?

Yes i love the sounds! Servos are beautiful. I have had an MRI and I was furious nobody warned me how incredible it sounded because I did not have a recorder with me! One of my biggest sound regrets and sadnesses. I guess will have to get injured again soon.

Haha, 'sound regrets.'

I try to be zen about it like 'don't become attached to things. it's all good' but I am essentially lying to myself when I do this. Just hard to carry a recorder at every moment.

Are you attached to sounds? Love at first listen?

Yes for sure. Some get made out of nothing, they start dull and then surprise me (it is so exciting when it happens). Others are like heart-stopping and just just draw-dropping out of the gate. And then there are childhood sounds which have a whole other comfort and association.

Can you give me an example of a childhood sound?

Oh damn, I walked right into that one! Let's see…well the sound of my childhood bathtub when you turn it on. It makes this crazy hyena wailing sound because the pipes are from like the 1800s or maybe even earlier! Also we owned a really old stool…my parents furniture growing up was like very very creaky and old! And we had a stool that when you stood up…the sound of it scraping against the wood floor was almost like a whale bellowing in pain or something. So dramatic! Especially with reverb.

So childhood sounds that remind us of wildlife, all contained within the walls your childhood home?

Yeah things that feel too exceptional to be from the mouth of something so mundane! Sort of teaches you to not judge a books by its cover!

One more thing super duper important: Do you know your astrology at all?

I don't at all! I am a Cancer though, which always sounded like such a bummer. But crabs are cute (and sassy!). 


Fat Cat Split 12" Series #23 with Katie Gately and Tlaotlon is out now and you can order it here.

Unsound Preview: Janus / Kablam

15 Oct 2014 — Henning Lahmann

Krakow's Unsound Festival started on Sunday and so far it's been a Golden October dream, perhaps despite that true nightmare that was the early afternoon showing of Andrzej Żuławski's 1981 relationship drama-cum-horror movie "Possession" that I'm still trying to wrap my mind around. "The Dream" is also this year's festival theme – described by the curators as "a symptom of a world where self-expression and experience are increasingly mediated and commodified. It plays out on laptops used for work and leisure, in networked coffee shops, airports, international 'artistic enclaves' and nightclubs. Anxiety is its underside: those Living The Dream often do so in precarious financial situations, while in the background, ecological, political and economic systems lurch towards collapse; war looms on the horizon, threatening to escalate."

In more than one sense of the word, in the past few years Berlin has become The Dream for more and more musicians from all over the world, who mostly seem to come to the city in the search of exactly that: a place that is somewhat detached from the troubles of globalised late capitalism, where artistic expression is still possible due to a still comparably reasonable cost of living, and an overall attitude just liberal enough to not become an obstacle. Whether Berlin really is or has even ever been that dream place is one question, the other more pressing is in which way the expat community itself has started a process that's fundamentally changing the dynamic of the city's social geography. Soon, it'll be time to reflect on the sustainability of the dream. Artists have already started leaving Berlin again, moving to Leipzig or further east, with Krakow among a growing list of cities that now embody the illusion of a culturally rich location that willingly provides the means to devote yourself entirely to creative activity, without being forced to compromise. Which begs the creeping question – has it ever been about Berlin at all? "How do ideas of locality – or the lack of them – affect culture?," asks the panel "Place/Displace/Non-Place" at Naodowy Stary Teatr on Friday at 3.45, featuring some writers who should have to say something about that as expats in various European locations themselves.

However for the time being, legitimately focusing on the upsides of Berlin's evolvement into a truly global creative hub, the Musicboard-funded Berlin Current poject by CTM Festival has started to showcase some of the exciting aspects of the expat scene along the Spree. Over the past two years the Janus night has certainly become the epitome of New Berlin. Still, considering the aforementioned, it isn't entirely clear whether the scene around Janus is even a Berlin thing – or merely something that was started here by accident. After its first Berghain night last Friday the Janus crew is coming to Unsound Festival this week. In anticipation of the event and in order to explore some of the topics just mentioned, we spoke to resident DJ Kajsa Blom aka KABLAM via email. Read the interview after the break.

CTM's Berlin Current showcase featuring the Janus crew is part of Unsound Festival's night "The Ticket That Exploded Part 1", happening at Hotel Forum on Friday, October 17. More information on the event is available over here.

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Try to describe Janus in one sentence.

Hype, hate, copy

In which way does the night's concept embody an approach to club music that was missing in Berlin?

I would say its concept is genre-crossing, rude, more fearless and more diverse than what usually is being served in Berlin’s nightlife.

What does Berlin have to do with it in the first place? You've had a night in NYC already and now you're gonna be at Unsound. In which way is Janus' sound essential to Berlin; could it exist without the city or is its location wholly incidental anyway?

Having a space like Chesters really played a big role. A space like that would probably be impossible to find in NYC or Stockholm. It was not too big, not too small and had a great sound system for that size. It worked as this residency where we could try out things. For me having never really DJ’d before, this was the perfect place to try out things and learn.

What do you like about the Berlin crowd? Do you find it particularly open-minded or rather the opposite, still fixated on techno and house?

The ”Berlin crowd” is quite diverse I would say, but there is definitely still a huge crowd fixated on techno and house. Don’t get me wrong, I love dancing to hard techno, and I really respect a good techno DJ, but it’s almost like a different occupation. Using the CDJs you can manipulate the tracks in ways you can’t do on a record player. I think a large part of the Berlin crowd still wants to see DJs who play records, but I believe that’s slowly changing too.

How long have you been in Berlin now? Do you think that the place is getting more or less interesting? What are some developments that concern you?

I’ve been in Berlin for two years, but I am currently in Stockholm to write my BA thesis. I definitely think it’s getting more interesting, but that is my individual experience. I think it is intact with me discovering more parts, areas and scenes, opening up my eyes and ears more and more. 

Janus is usually depicted as this Brooklyn thing that came to Berlin – by the New York Times anyway. You are from Sweden, right? How did you get in touch with the rest, and how do you fit in from your own perspective?

I am from Sweden, but I am half-German. It is kind of not a Brooklyn thing-- no one in the Janus crew is from Brooklyn. I was not a part of Janus from the beginning but I was at almost every Janus party before I became a resident, and that’s how I got to know Dan, Michael, J’Kerian (Lotic) and James (M.E.S.H.). I had never felt at home in a club environment before. I loved how they approached the whole idea of what a club can be and I loved how they played so fearlessly. Last August Dan asked if I wanted to play a Janus night; I said yes although I had never really mastered the CDJ-2000 before. So I watched some Youtube tutorials, went there and played a bunch of Jersey club tracks and they liked it. I can’t point out exactly what it is that we share that make us work together, we just belong together, it just makes sense.

What are you trying to achieve with your own work? What's your main incentive to do the stuff you're doing?

Whoa, what am I trying to achieve…? I guess I want to produce something that sounds exactly like me in that moment. But it’s also about being fearless, not being afraid to fail. It’s gonna sound corny maybe, but I think my main incentive lies in the creation of ’the new’. When new thoughts and ideas are born, just in that moment, there is a sense of complete freedom. Of course new ideas aren’t born out of nothing like some kind of magic, most of the time they are born as an opposition toward existing norms. I hate genre categorization for instance, this is something that is flooded by norms. I hate the genre term ’IDM’ (Intelligent Dance Music)-- why is that type of music more intelligent than other dance music? EDM is not less intelligent than IDM. Let’s talk about what it actually sounds like and how it makes us feel. Let’s stop forcing music, and people, into categories that they have not asked to be a part of.

Adding this spatial dimension, like a more or less public space where these ideas can take form and be introduced and exchanged, that makes it real. I used to think my music experiments were made just for me, but I was wrong!

What's next for you artistically? What do you expect from the Berlin Current funding? Is there anything in the works already that you could tell us about, or is it mainly your participation in the showcases?

It is mainly my participation in the showcases. The night we did at Berghain was the most insane and beautiful, and now we are doing another night at the Unsound festival on Friday with Dj Hvad and Amnesia Scanner. I am super excited! I don’t know what’s next. With my own stuff I am still trying to figure out what direction to go in and it is an interesting phase because it takes me to all kinds of places.

Interview: Peter Sagar (HOMESHAKE)

14 Oct 2014 — Henry Schiller

Cold weather, warm showers, slick grooves, capital letters: HOMESHAKE (the pseudonym of Montreal-based Peter Sagar) has one of the most full-bodied aesthetics of any act I’ve had the pleasure of covering. The former Mac DeMarco guitarist's debut album, In the Shower, came out last week on Sinderlyn / Bad Actors. I chatted briefly with Sagar over email about his album, his friends, and his influences: both musical and meteorological.


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NFOP: Hi Peter. I know you'll be in New York in a couple of weeks for CMJ. Is this your first time playing the festival? Are you currently at home in Montreal or are you already on the road?

PS: I've been down to CMJ a couple times,  we did it last year as well. Right now I'm at home.

NFOP: You’ve mentioned Canada’s "icy landscape" as an influence, which is a fairly atypical point of reference. There is, however, an undeniable iciness to your music. Not to say that its lacking in warmth or emotion, but your music feels like it would be a good soundtrack for being bundled up in an igloo. How is it that you feel your musical output has been shaped or affected by growing up in a cold climate?

PS: I remember when I was a teenager in Edmonton I'd always think "fuck this I'm going out I won't let the weather get me down" while I put on three pairs of socks and 5 sweaters to take the bus across the river to drink at some dank bar, but eventually it broke me and I stopped leaving the house.  It was probably at that point I started spending a lot of time recording music on my own, so I suppose it is directly responsible for my output.

NFOP: Is HOMESHAKE your first project, or just the latest in a long line of musical pseudonyms? What are some other projects or bands you've been involved in, and in what capacity?

PS: I had a band in Edmonton called Outdoor Miners, it was sort of noisy 90's style stuff, didn't last a long time though.  Then I started making solo music under the name Sans AIDS, but the name was terrible and offended people so when I got to Montreal I ditched it.  For the last few years I was playing guitar with Mac DeMarco, lots of fun, saw the world, went insane.

NFOP: We don’t cover a ton of guitar music at No Fear of Pop, so when we do it’s usually because we're listening to something downright unique. You seem like you might have a fairly “standard” guitar, bass, drums setup, but your sound is very difficult to place. Who are some of your biggest influences?

PS: A few would be Curtis Mayfield, Angelo Badalamenti, R Kelly, Herbie Hancock and Broadcast.

NFOP: Kind of in the same vein as the last question, but what kinds of groups / acts are you usually compared to? Have you gotten any comparisons that completely took you by surprise?

PS: Most comparisons are with friends of mine, which is fine because I have some very talented friends.

NFOP: You recorded In The Shower at Montreal's Drones Club this past winter. What was the process like? Do you think of this as a studio album or more of a DIY piece?

PS: I recorded it with my friend Mike, a few days here or there over a fee months. We would do a couple songs and then not work on it for a a few weeks. I paid him with several bottles of Jameson, he deserves better.

NFOP: No Fear of Pop’s readers are on the sharpest point of the cutting edge when it comes to new music. Any acts you’ve been playing with, or otherwise getting into who you think our readers ought to know about?

PS: Wow great job everybody! A few acts I'm into big time these days are Tonstartsbandht, Silk Rhodes and Jerry Paper.

Interview: sloslylove

12 Sep 2014 — Sam Clark

Five to ten years ago a cursory overview of Eau Claire music probably would have read as homogenized, with acts like Bon Iver, Amateur Love, and the Daredevil Christopher Wright garnering various levels of attention from the public eye. But as many of those projects have either disbanded or gone on hiatus, a proverbial curtain has been pulled back, revealing Eau Claire as a more diverse climate and a decisive component in the Midwest musical landscape. The burgeoning network of house venues designed as safe, all-ages spaces has created an environment for underground rap to flourish and for members of the city’s electronic music guild to hone their craft. 

At the forefront of the latter movement is sloslylove, the moniker of Eau Claire native Feng Meng Vue. After spending a significant stretch of time in Minneapolis, Vue repatriated himself just in time to prep and release his second full-length album, The Haunted, which dropped in July. I recently caught up with Vue to talk about his no-nonsense, natural approach towards making music and his interest in building synthesizers. Check out the interview after the break.

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The moniker “sloslylove” seems, at least to me, the perfect combination of adjectives and nouns to describe your sound. Where did the name come from?

"Slow" – adjective: uneventful and rather dull.

"Sly" – adjective: lightly mischievous.

"Love" – noun: an intense feeling of deep affection.

Forget the definitions I listed above, short answer is, I stole the name from a friend back in high school – I believe my sophomore year – I guess the definitions are sorta relevant. Long story, my friend and I joked about starting a 90's cover band, covering cheesy love songs…Never happened; we didn't know how to make music. But the name stuck with me all these years.

You cultivated a rather large interest and following online pretty early on. Has that had a substantial impact on the trajectory of your career?

Not really, it was pretty crazy at first but I thought nothing of it. I don't really focus on what's happening outside of what I'm actually doing, if that makes any sense. I'm just kinda taking things as they come, not really forcing anything.

Talk a bit about The Haunted. Do you see the record as a continuation of Tendencies or more of a step in a new direction?

After I put out Tendencies, I kind of just took a break from the solo stuff to do other projects. That was like two years ago…So, onto The Haunted: I hope it’s nothing like Tendencies. I didn't want to do that album over again. The only thing I want to keep as a constant in all my music is that #feelsright vibe. The Haunted is definitely where I'm trying to go next with my music. I just want to get weird…

One recurring theme in your music is the inclusion of audio samples throughout songs. Where do these samples come from, and how do they fit into the aesthetic of sloslylove?

I watch really slow-paced boring love movies that only your girl or girlfriends would be into. I have my reasons…Let's just say, all magical quotes deserve soundtracks. If I hear Reese Witherspoon say some real soft shit that makes the eyes glossy and there ain't no soundtrack over it, I'm gonna make the soundtrack to it! Also, movie one-liners are my biggest inspiration.

Really though, most my songs are instrumentals. People will create their own stories to those songs. The songs where I include audio samples is just a way for me to set the tone. They’re basically a brief description of what the song means to me without saying much or having to say anything at all, still leaving enough room to make your own meaning. If that makes sense…I hear music cinematically, I see movies musically.

Both of your album covers feature pretty intricate designs, and you frequently perform with images projected behind you. How important is the visual component of your project?

Album covers, design-y things always happen last minute…I don't think much of it, I just do it in collaboration with a good friend of mine. I'll just be like, "Album’s done, I guess I need some art now…" and it kind of naturally happens. The Haunted is my favorite cover though, front to back. If you look closely or pay attention, you'll see many Easter eggs referencing my childhood. Or not…

But yeah, as far as the visual projections go when performing, those aren't me. I can't take credit for the dope animations and time spent. Shout outs to Kimberly Lesik and Eric Wells!

You’ve spent time in Minneapolis and seem fond of California, but you currently call Eau Claire home. What draws you to the town’s music scene?

This is my hometown, I grew up here. Been here since forever. To be real, I wanted to get out of this city for the longest time, and I did, lived in Minneapolis for about seven years. Being away though, at least for me, made me appreciate Eau Claire a lot more. The music here is dope. That's a given. It's the most honest music out there. Everything is made in the blizzard man, that says a lot! Honestly though, everyone in Eau Claire is an inventor. If there isn't something poppin' off over the weekend, you know one of your friends or yourself are going to make something pop off. That's what I'm drawn to, people making their own adventures.

People following you via social media and that have gone to your more recent shows may have noticed that you’re both building and performing with your own synthesizers. Can you speak a bit on that interest and how it’s affected your approach towards making music?

Well, about a year ago, I started learning about modular synths and how they work. I started building my Eurorack Modular Synth about that same time and right now, I have a custom-built 6U case fully filled with modules from different companys. I have no plans to expand at the moment, but I'm sure I will next year or something. I just love gear. Gear doesn't really affect how I make music, it's just another tool to assist in the process. I'm a very hands-on person, so I need to be touching something. Also, it's just so much more fun to have all your machines talking to each other, in time, perfectly synced. I feel like I'm the conductor and my machines are my band mates.

Aside from your own synths, what are your key pieces of gear for recording and live shows?

My live sets are always changing. Sometimes I'll have six machines sync'd up, other times I'll have two machines. I'm always adding and taking things out. The last couple shows I played I used an SP404 and my modular synth.

At home when I'm recording, I usually run all my gear into Ableton. I use a Roland Juno 6 in most my songs. So I guess, that's my main hardware. But as of right now, I haven't fucked with Ableton for awhile now. I’ve been recording all my sequences on my SP404 and SP303.

Between releasing The Haunted and touring around California and Mexico, you’ve had a busy summer. What’s next for sloslylove?

More music man, never stop. #feelsright

Interview: Kristine Lirio (Nima)

28 Jul 2014 — Johanne Swanson

I met Kristine Lirio a few summers ago in Los Angeles. If it was at a renegade show in a parking structure or a pool party she was playing in Eagle Rock, I can't say. What I do remember, first: the quiet strength of command and intention over her insturment; second: the supportive group, friends and collaborators, surrounding her. Last week Lirio, who records as Nima, released the devastating See Feel Real. She was gracious enough to speak with me about the aural metaphor behind the record and the nurtured ethic of freely sharing her craft. Read the interview after the break.

See Feel Real is avaliable now on a limited run of 50 cassettes through Harsh Riddims

(Photos by Nalini Sairsingh)

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Hey Kristine! Thanks for making the time to chat.

Thank you for having me!

Last time I saw you was at the beginning of the year when we were sharing a bill at the short-lived Church on York with the rest of the Smells Like Queen Spirit crew. I feel like gear is always breaking playing electronic music, synths dying right before you're about to go on and whatnot, but you had lost your voice that night! So frustrating to have your most intimate and manipulative instrument fail. Still, your performance was entirely absorbing. What was your setup like?

Everyone was amazing that night! Despite losing my voice, it was interesting to  solely showcase the instrumentals to see if their strength carried without my voice. I used a Kawai K4, a Casiotone MT-68, a few delay pedals, and a sampler to trigger some audio clips - among those clips were some extracts from my favorite Parajanov films.

Are you playing similarly out live now?

With that gear, yes. Sometimes it's overwhelming having so much in front of me visually. I think it's my classical training as a piano player-- there's the idea of engaging with one instrument crafted to produce certain tones versus engaging with several instruments that can incorporate digital possibility. I love both ideas and get to exercise them -- it feels like a balancing act, especially when the majority of my live renditions rely on layered loops. It's all about purging and being able to access the drive within you that no one else can see and engage with it through your craft, which also makes it audibly and visibly accessible.

nima gear

Seems like everyone has funny stories about how gear finds them. Got any?

When I started playing shows I used to lug around my sister's 88-key Yamaha Motif that we kept in a large canvas case with wheels. It must've looked comical and impractical, but there was comfort in being able to access those octaves. Then she gave me a Kawai K4 in 2011 and it's been with me since. As for my Casiotone MT-68, I found it under a bench in Tustin.

When did you move to Oakland?

I relocated from Irvine about six months ago. The Bay Area in general has always resurfaced in my life between family and friends. It's a nourishing region and my creative support system is here. I also love the fog and being near the ocean.

You just self-released bay connected not but a week after See Feel Reel came out on Atlanta's Harsh Riddims. It feels like your older material, more drone and minimal. What were the timeline and process like?

I recorded bay connected in two nights, once in June and once in July. I was trying to shake off the feeling of longing so I shut myself in my room, drank a six pack, and just recorded freely, looping parts on the Casiotone while manipulating and looping samples I accumulated on the SP-555. The intention came from the desire to reconnect with sources that were no longer accessible as how I first encountered them (people, places, or objects specific to circumstance). It's a personal archive of these sources that inspired me.

See Feel Reel is a definite turn for you as an artist. It's pretty aggressive and a bit more challenging of a listen. What were the catalysts for this?

I wanted to combat the expectations of softness and atmosphere to showcase a hardier side with literal tension in the actual sound and feeling. There's also a theme devoted to the power of cinema, in its viewing and production, containing representation and recording the fidelity of a moment. The song "No Speech Sensuality" is the gut of it all-- I was tired of hearing how synths were immediately associated with space, and I think we get that as an audience because of the more conventional identifications taken from soundtracks in cinema and TV shows utilizing those sounds. I'm not opposed to it, but it made me question whether or not we are actively creating our own metaphors when describing or painting music we hear. It's definitely good to relate and recognize the impact of those identifiers, but how often are we able to branch out of the descriptions we haven't created on our own? "No Speech Sensuality" consists of two takes layered on top of one another, and I played the Kawai through the DD-20 hoping to give my take on what kind of atmosphere or visual those tones meant to me.

One of my favorite tracks is "How Does It Go (ft. hellacamus)". It starts with this great melodic tension and intimate lyrical narrative and sort of explodes in this grinding beat while you sing over and over, demanding and sort of teasing, "Don't fucking humor me."

That song was very fun to produce, and is actually hellacamus singing the lead. The way it was constructed began with her a cappella first, which she presented to me one day, and I really wanted to include it in the album. I incorporated manipulated samples of recorded jam sessions that consisted of .L.W.H. on drums, clownshoes on guitar, and me on keyboard. The only recorded instrument in that track is hellacamus' voice and my backing vocals - everything else is a collage of samples.

It's a theme I kept arriving at while thinking about your work-- meditation on tension. Would you agree?

Yes, I'm glad it resonates that way with you because I feel like I can better handle those tensions making or performing music, and not in a way to suspend them or to feel indulgent in my own little world, but to allow those tensions to take a different form than how they appear internally, to make them more relatable audibly despite the fact they are not ultimately defined. That's what the whole project is about, even if it may seem personal, I wanted to create these intentional metaphors and see the sincere connection I can share with individuals outside of myself.

Yeah, I feel like we sort of belong to a generation of cultural anxiety in love with the digital age. We were taught that these consuming tensions, anxieties, are internal forces, but the information age has sort of radicalized or even politicized the vocal expression of anxiety.

I think our generation is definitely speaking out, but there's something lost in the articulation-- we want it to communicate on a wide scale while keeping in mind the individual's context-- and I don't think this kind of voice reaches a general audience because there’s an array of contexts that we want to be inclusive about when it comes to any type of suffering. Vocal expressions, when conscious, meditative, and intentional, will speak to its immediate environment. Anomalies will of course exist, but it seems like the generations that grew up with technology and accessibility will need more narrative or context from older generations when it comes to expressing anxiety in a way that reaches out to other anxious individuals. It seems like we're stuck in this spot where we all know we're anxious, but what can we do about it? I feel like voice has become a thing of shouting versus a call to action. But that's the great thing about our power as individuals when we have the time and capabilities to think about these things and create from our thoughts-- do we take on that responsibility?

There's a lot of collaboration on See Feel Reel that I haven't noticed in previous Nima releases. Can you talk a bit about that choice and your experience working with other artists? 

Megan (clownshoes) and hellacamus are both my good friends. Megan wanted to work on music together after hearing the Demon/Wet Dream tape that Kevin of Bridgetown Records released in 2011. We started playing together and recorded. Clownshoes, hellacamus, and I met in high school in Irvine, and I think we share a lot of the growing pains of that region. When I moved here, L.W.H. reached out and we got to jam and talk about film and music. His album CIA TV has been a big influence. In fact, all three who were featured and myself watched four Godard shorts at PFA one night in February. After the films we got drinks, and Logan and Megan recorded vocals over what ended up being "Come Around". I'm glad I got the chance to create endearing moments with them.

Any other artists you'd like to collaborate with?

It's hard to think of because I feel hesitant to reach out to those who aren’t close by. I like intuitively engaging with someone when creating, and that makes it hard when the individual isn’t present.  A series of video chatting and determined emails definitely make it possible, but by preference I would love to be in a physical space with someone. I did have the opportunity to collaborate on a track with SELA. from Vallejo, which will be on his next release Inevitable.

What inspires you?

I'm inspired by people who are in love with their craft and love to share it. It's something my mother always told me that her grandmother told her, that when you share or give, it's without expectation, it's because you want to-- and that's all there is to it. It's the closest thing to purity I can think of besides your first love, and the fact that she actively does that is mind-blowing to me. I try to live by that, especially in a world where there's so much output to discern that you're just looking for that one sincere moment you can share with other individuals. Giving, in my mother's eyes, doesn't create cycles nor does it seek gain or reciprocation.

Interview: Gabe Holcombe (Vehicle Blues)

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.

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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.

Interview: Amen Dunes on Confinement, Astrology, and The Masculinity of “Love”

12 May 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

Bob Dylan, Tim Buckley, and, especially in the case of the new album, Love, Nick Drake, are all influences considerably easy to decipher out of the Amen Dunes sound. Yet when I talked with the man behind the dunes, Damon McMahon, I wanted to try to learn about other areas of influence, perhaps more ethereal, groundless ones, as the other striking quality of the new album is its rapture. In that process, I gained some extra and candid insight on McMahon's thoughts on women and music, growing out of old habits, and contemporary artist-friends. This is how it went.

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Hi Damon! What's up?

Hello Evelyn! Not much, just in my natural habitat. [Walking through the streets of Brooklyn – sound of cars rushing by]

The last interview I did over Skype was with Mike Silver of CFCF, whose latest album was broadly inspired by traveling nonstop and a lot of the time between NYC and Montreal via the Catskills. You recorded your new album in Montreal and live in New York, so I'm curious if that commute had anything to do with the captivating, rather calming yet mouthwatering mood on Love, because you also have actually recorded in the Catskills?

Yeah, I recorded my first record in the Catskills. I don't think it necessarily contributed to the mood. Montreal is sort of a harsh vibe so it was actually a challenge to the mood. It depends on what mood comes across – there was sort of a mood of perseverance I guess and I think with Montreal being a difficult, harsh place, that played a small part in it. I guess I could say it that way.

I'd say the mood on the album is totally one of perseverance and overcoming, so if you recorded it in a place like that, you had even more to overcome apart from what you wrote about. I hadn't heard that interpretation of Montreal. Well, a good friend of mine lived there for several years and he said it was actually quite traumatizing.

I can see that, the winter was really brutal. We started recording in late February and there was like two feet of snow everywhere. But yeah also circumstances were challenging, so yeah that contributed a small part to the record. But whatever, the environment you record in is a minor part of an album. It effects it slightly, but this record is not all about where I recorded it.

That makes sense. I couldn't help but look up some interviews you did after Spoiler came out, which enlightened me to the frenzy of discomfort and rejection that particular album created. I was laughing actually about that because, come on, it's not that weird, it's a rad work, and it's the coolest thing for an artist to do something out of character. Anyway, you described your music to our buddies at The Quietus as 'negative music,' which I find interesting. Could you expand on that?

Thanks! That used to be true, and when I did that interview, let's see, I had done the first record in like 2006, and the second one in China in 2009, and so I was doing that interview around Through Donkey Jaw in 2011. All those records were 'negative music,' but I think that's not the case with the new Amen Dunes stuff at all. I was trying to be, well, not positive, but definitely but open, I think. The idea of this record was to be open. 'Negative music' was just, you know, aggressive music, sort of cathartic, aggressive music, antagonistic in subtle ways.

Ok so emotionally negative?


I was thinking you could have also meant like sonically negative, like the sound could emulate a negative aesthetic, like inverted colors, like on film. I was wondering if there's a textural element to that description.

Definitely! I think the negative I meant was negative emotions, like vengeance, and it was a tool for me to have catharsis. I don't make punk rock and I'm not a Japanese noise band from the 80s or something, but all those people have emotional agendas that I related to at the time. Their music is a way of striking out at people, and, in turn, it's medicinal to listeners. That's what the old Amen Dunes stuff was about. Texturally, I mean that's interesting, that's not what I meant by it, although Amen Dunes is influenced by certain films and just shit that I've absorbed over the years. I was trying to get away from that. I mean, I never made lo-fi music because I wanted to; If I could've gone to the studio with some engineers I really admire, and made it sound good, or if I could've gone to Muscle Shoals, if it still existed, for the first Amen Dunes record, my god, I would have! But at the time I could only afford a small tape machine for three-hundred bucks, so I was working within my means. So texturally it has a film negative quality – I like warm music, but I don't like lo-fi necessarily. I was trying to make the best warmth out of lo-fi.

That's interesting because if you feel like you can't do what you dream, like go for your first recording project to the dream studio with producers who you admire, you could feel confined. Feeling as if within confines connotes a negative feeling, too, so it's a duality of negative emotions placed into the music.

It's tricky because it's confining, it's limited, it's pro studio dudes in that world. They're not always creative oftentimes; they're stuck inside the confines. It's kind of an ideal scenario to be able to make free music in a good studio. I don't know how that's possible anymore, unless you have like ten million dollars and people let you do what you want.

Yeah it's weird how when you become so rich, you don't have to pay for anything anymore.

Right!? Yeah that's not the case with Amen Dunes. I wouldn't say 'so rich' with 'Amen Dunes.'

At least the Canadian dollar is a little behind ours right now, so you recorded in the right place.

That's true! Here's some money...

So it's about the challenge and overcoming of making warm, genuine music within the confines of lo-fi, negative music. It's like a sensitive paradox, and just talking about that with you makes me view your music differently.

Cool! It's not intentional, you know. I just want to make beautiful music that feels a certain way emotionally. I don't think I'm looking for a sonic aesthetic to convince something.

Yeah, it's free, as you say.


Well the new album has that freeing mood. I think the musicality and emotionality of every song is just... relieving. There's a big sense of relief.

That's what I want!

Well I can't help but pry, but what led you to that place? Do you also feel more in your personal life that you've arrived at a, not a plateau, because that sort of has a negative connotation, because then it's like 'ok, where the fuck do I go from here?' – but to a stable, flatter ground, or a new level where it's prettier and easier than where you were before and you can rest from the exhausting hike or whatever.

Yeah, the hike... I think in my case it was rolling down a hill. It came from years of self-destruction or, you know, years of bad living, which I did with Amen Dunes. It was my vehicle for dealing with bad living. So I think this new record is about moving beyond that and not being hindered by that anymore. Yeah, like you said, that 'relieving' feeling. It's great. I want all the music to have that medicinal quality. That's nice that that comes out.

It does! From the first chord onwards... but how old are you?

I'm thirty-three, a ripe thirty-three.

Ok so I'm really into astrology and...

I am also highly superstitious myself.

Ok right on! Well I'm not about to do a reading for you or anything, but I actually would be curious as to when your birthday is.

Yeah I think it might make sense, too: I'm a Virgo.

No shit me too!

You are? Now that's funny. [Chuckles]

Are you a September or August Virgo?

I'm September 12th - my music is very Virgo.

I never attributed any astrological stuff to your music actually but now I'll do it every time I listen to it. Well, I ask because, in astrology, there's this huge transit we have to all go through when we're in our late twenties and early thirties called Saturn Return – have you heard of that before?

No, I haven't. See, I'm superstitious enough that I stay out of this stuff. Anyway, what was it?

So when we're in our late twenties and early thirties, depending on where Saturn is in our respective natal charts, it transits back through that place where it was when we started life, and that whole process usually has an air on dropping things that no longer work for us, like ending bad relationships, divorcing our parents, feeling like nothing will ever actually change... but it's really a giant growth spurt.

That's very apropos, because I am thirty-three, and I began this record right after my thirty-third birthday and I was just ending this really longterm, serious relationship. So, superficially, this record has been a way of processing that relationship. So that's funny, that record comes right out of that part of my life...I like your thesis.

On the track "I Know Myself," there's sort of crooning, shaky singing style that is always sort of in your singing but here very prominent. What is that style called?

I don't think it's called anything, but it comes from my process of listening to music over the years and absorbing singers. When I was a little kid, I started off by not writing songs but copy other singers. I was a huge Bob Dylan fan when I was a kid, and Texas blues, old acoustic blues people. I loved Tim Buckley when I was a kid. I liked The Band when I was like fifteen or fourteen, and I'd sing and started using this vibrato thing. And over the years, I just worked it out; it's like a tool that I know how to use now. It's just in me, I don't know. Comes from the stuff I listened to growing up.

I thought of Jefferson Airplane.

That's funny – someone told me that once years ago. Yeah, when I was a kid... that second Jefferson Airplane record, Surrealistic Pillow, that is a very overlooked record. It's kind of annoying: people love obscure reissues and all this shit; but, the best stuff is often the most obvious stuff, in my opinion, especially in the 60s. That record is my favorite psych-folk record. Anyway, she was one of my biggest influences as a kid.

That segways us a bit into my question about female musicians. On "Lilac In Hand," it sounds like you and some lady backup singing in the chorus. Is this the case?

No, it's my brother, actually. His name is Xander Duell, and he put a record out on Mexican Summer, and he's putting a new record out this fall on a label called Ingrid. He is an overlooked gem, that guy. Yeah, but it's not a woman, just my brother. He's got an incredible range … he also sings on "I Know Myself." Those harmonies are my brother also.

Ok well he sounds beautiful! Let him know I say so.

I will! [Laughter]

So were there any ladies on the collaboration for Love?

Sophie from Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Jess from A Silver Mt. Zion play violin on the song "Rocket Flare." You know, I don't mean this in a weird, misogynist way, but this record is a very masculine record. Amen Dunes is very masculine in general, or like man-focused.

Yeah, man-focused and also man-folkist because of all the masculine folk music influence.

[Both laugh]

Do you think you could ever see yourself doing a riskier album than Spoiler, like do a collaboration album with a female artist you like, or like a favorite contemporary female artist?

To be honest, I don't think my energy would work with that. I mean, I love women, and I have plenty of female friends, but I don't think my energy would work with a woman. I don't know, I can't imagine it, actually. It's just not my vibe, and I don't mean that in any kind of disparaging or critical way; I just don't think chemically it'll work.

Explosion in the lab!


That answer makes me feel like you've thought about it before.

Well I can feel it, instantly, even when you ask me that question. I've never thought about that too much, but all my musical choices are incredibly clear to me, like what would work and what wouldn't work. I'm also picky about who I play with.

I would say that both of those things, the feeling what wouldn't work intuition and being picky bit, are strong Virgo traits. So you're a good Virgo.

I'm a total Virgo!

Before I let you go, I wanted to learn a bit about your favorite contemporary music. Who are your favorite contemporary artists? I'm always curious about what's being collected and loved by artists.

Well the music I love are kind of polar opposites – I love like much more experimental, and electronic music on one end, and then kind of a few more popular things. I don't like stuff in the middle so much. So, I listen to a ton of European/English experimental electronic music. I love this label out of London called Alter … this guy Helm, he's playing my record release show. I like Posh Isolation out of Denmark. I like this Three Legged Race project, and this guy LG out of Belgium. Then I like these more popular guys. I like Kurt Vile, I mean these happen to be a lot of friends … I like The War on Drugs stuff … and Iceage, you know, Elias is a good friend of mine. He actually sings on two songs on the record. I really like those guys, all the Danes.

The duets you guys do on the record sound really good.

I'm so psyched about that, man. There are very few people who are very good singers. And he's a really good singer. I don't often trust someone when I hear them sing, like I hear it, and I instantly know whether it's believable or not.

Like someone is singing and it's a lie? It's not raw, good singing? Lie-singing?

They're not believable, they're phony or something. Most singers don't have balls, and I don't mean that in a masculine way – I don't know how to put. You just don't believe them. But Elias, I believe him.

Did he join you in the studio in Montreal?

No, he was in Brooklyn, coincidentally. It was so awesome. [Snickers] He had been tripping all night, so he came into the studio and he was still hallucinating, was telling me all this stuff, like he had been an old black man from a past life and was shining a candle on the ground – it was very unusual behavior. It was pretty awesome.

I totally have to include this in the interview! [Both laugh]

Love is out tomorrow, May 13th on Sacred Bones, and is, in my opinion, an achievement for Amen Dunes.