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pastel gabriel brenner

photo courtesy of the artist

last month, gabriel brenner released the latest extended play under his pastel moniker.  the los angeles-based artist uses the five songs that span absent, just dust to examine a concept of native erasure that is both familial and personal, a desire that stemmed from myriad recent events.

those familiar with pastel’s earlier work might anticipate another offering of celestial r&b; instead, the intimacy and vulnerability of this project’s subject matter necessitated a shift into a more ambient, experimental realm.  brenner’s commanding lead vocal still haunts tracks, like the standout cut “silhouette,” but absent, just dust is often shrouded in ominous pulses and static found sounds, a malleable canvas onto which brenner can interpret a bevy of emotions.

we were fortunate to catch up with brenner recently via e-mail and discuss all things absent, just dust: from compositional approach to an integration of visual art to brenner’s preference for shorter bodies of work.  a lightly-edited transcript, along with a full stream of the extended play, is presented below.

this new ep is a pretty explicit exploration of erasure.  what was the catalyst to delve into this personal topic?

i recently graduated from the art program at ucla, and i spent much of my last year there making video works largely surrounding my relationship with my native heritage.  these were ideas that i had spent a few years trying to work out (i tried sculpture, poetry, etc), and it just seemed to click with video.

this also happened to be around the same time that the nodapl resistance started gaining national attention.  there was a livestream video that a journalist had set up on facebook one night, showing militarized police cornering water protectors on a bridge, throwing tear gas at them, and spraying them with a water cannon in subzero temperatures.  i felt such a multitude of emotions, but i couldn’t quite put them into words.  or, rather, words just didn’t suffice.

in trying to understand my heritage, i’ve continually arrived at a similar loss.  i’m pima on my mother’s side and cherokee on my father’s.  neither side of my family knows much, if anything, about our people and culture, and it’s largely because of a long history of atrocities like this.  at base, so much of art is about making new language, and when the language wasn’t there for me, it made sense to process this through art, and later, music.

absent, just dust is also a bit of a sonic departure for you.  did the thematic material you explore necessitate the shift, or did the shift lead you to explore this thematic material?

it was a bit of both.  i had made the foundation for “haunt” and “silhouette” 2 years prior to the release, and sat on the music for so long because it was such a sonic departure for me.  it didn’t make sense with the rest of the music i had released prior and i didn’t know what to do with it.  when i started making the videos, the music suddenly made sense when placed within a similar conceptual framework.  from there, i started making the rest of the ep, and it continued to follow in the same sonic footsteps.


i think your project could be described as audio/visual, what with the photo book that accompanied bone-weary and the general thought and care that goes into the design of your cassettes.  how do you approach integrating photography and fine art with your music to create a cohesive whole?

i think because i come from a contemporary art background, i tend to think of music projects as visual art projects, too.  i think of the cassettes as art objects, and thus think it’s equally important that the visuals communicate nuanced, poetic ideas like the music.  i want listeners to know what i’m talking about in my music, and they can’t know deeply if the visuals are communicating something different than the music.

many, if not all, of your releases have been either standalone singles or extended plays.  do you find yourself gravitating towards a shorter format for any particular reason?

i’ve always been enamored by artists that can say a lot with very little.  it’s the difference between félix gonzález-torres and someone like matthew barney.  félix can communicate more to me with just a few light bulbs than barney can in five grandiose feature-length films because félix allows me ample space to sit with the particulars.

i think i always work towards a-lot-with-a-little because it’s so effective.  i’m also aware that my music asks for quite a bit of patience from the listener because it doesn’t reveal itself all too quickly.  i contemplated turning absent, just dust into a full length, but i couldn’t imagine asking a listener to sit even longer with a work that already felt a bit like an endurance piece at just five tracks.

to that end, do you anticipate releasing a full-length in the near future?

i guess it depends; if the work calls for a full-length, then it will be a full-length!  but i do think it’s long overdue, so we’ll see.

this ep is very heavy thematically and that weight manifests itself frequently in the arrangements, but i get an occasional sense of serenity, at least musically.  did making absent, just dust feel cathartic at any point?

“stammer” definitely felt cathartic to make.  i basically just hit record and started singing, and then worked with what i had.  the track is largely about the struggle to communicate without the right words, and letting my voice unfold to fill in the gaps was pretty freeing.

half of all proceeds made from absent, just dust will be donated to freshet collective, an organization providing legal services to the water protectors at standing rock.  a handful of cassettes are still available for purchase through pastel’s bandcamp, where digital versions of his entire catalogue can also be procured.

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alisa rodriguez has been building sprawling, droning landscapes under the moniker of apollo vermouth for the better part of a decade now.  armed usually with little more than her guitar and a sampler, rodriguez sculpts titanic walls of sound that are often as pensive as they are crushing.

after a rapid-fire succession of releases between 2012 and 2014, apollo vermouth’s output slowed considerably; crashing into nowhere, rodriguez’ first full-length in more than three years, came out last friday via orchid tapes.  its seven songs should supply familiar touchstones for long-time followers of the milwaukee-based artist, but a handful of new tracks meander into new territory with wondrous results.

we recently caught up with rodriguez via e-mail to chat about the evolution of songwriting, milwaukee’s experimental music scene, and translating ambient albums into a live setting.  check out the transcript below.

to the casual observer, milwaukee seems to have a flourishing music scene, and especially, a vibrant experimental/ambient niche. what’s your perception of the scene? what kind of cog is apollo vermouth within that machine?

i have sort of a love/hate relationship with milwaukee’s music scene.  it’s really hard to stand out with the music i make, but i think that can definitely be a good thing.  i try not to be afraid of coming off vulnerable.  i want people to have a reaction to the music, but it’s tough in milwaukee because it’s such a party city.  people have a tendency to turn a show into a social event and treat the music as background sound.  most experimental musicians i talk to around here feel the same way, especially at bar venues.  it’s sort of a great excuse for us to play louder.

your newest album, crashing into nowhere, is out on orchid tapes.  how did you connect with the label for this release?

i’ve known warren for years.  i first heard about his project foxes in fiction in the mid-2000s via a deerhunter fan message board.  i was a huge fan of his first album, swung from the branches, when it came out and have been following orchid tapes since he started it back in 2010.  we finally met in person in chicago when he was on tour opening for owen pallett.  warren is one of the most humble and sweetest musicians i’ve ever met.  about a year later, he contacted me about putting out an album on his label.  i was so flattered and practically jumped out of my chair when he asked.

has your songwriting process changed over time?  do you perceive any marked evolution?

definitely, yeah.  i took a break from songwriting after putting out fractured youth.  even where there were instances where i wanted to make music, i’d try, but i wasn’t making anything worthwhile.  i started questioning ending the project, but i didn’t feel comfortable ending apollo with an album like fractured youth.  it also feels like apollo vermouth will never really end; it’s sort of something i feel like i’ll always come back to, even when i’m taking a break working on something else.

it took about three months to make crashing into nowhere.  i recorded a few tracks at my practice space and the rest of the album was done at my house.  i typically use the first take with each track i work on, but this time i wanted to do the best that i could.  no more amateur hour.


“always there” and “reflections of” feature prominent vocals, a bit of a departure from this project’s vernacular.  “reflections of” in particular feels like a very singular component of your catalogue.  what was it like to approach a few apollo vermouth tracks from a collaborative standpoint?

after finishing fractured youth, i thought a lot about collaborating with other musicians i’m good friends with.  my boyfriend has always been my number one collaborator, but i wanted to work with friends that i admire a lot.

travis johnson of grooms is someone who i’ve admired for years, even before we became friends.  travis has such a distinct voice that feels like you’re listening to your guardian angel singing.  he’s a big influence on me, musically and spiritually.  i was excited to have him on board to sing on one of my songs.

i got one of my oldest, best friends, eli smith, to work on the song “reflections of.”  i gave him my guitar track and told him to do whatever he wanted with it.  he came back with something out of this world.  i was so pumped on his part and couldn’t get over the orchestral samples. he’s without a doubt the most talented musician i know.

the dense textures of ambient and drone music sometimes necessitate an approximation in a live setting, but i get the sense that your approach to composition is already often pretty minimalistic.  does the gear you use to record differ much from the gear you use when performing live?

not at all.  the only thing that’s slightly different for the live shows is that sometimes i can’t always emulate the recording due to me not remembering how to play a certain part, or even the whole song.  it’s partially my fault for only recording a song on the first take and ending it there.  i always admired the idea of certain musicians like william basinski and electronic artists who only play new music live or take songs to another level, like changing the progression.

you were actively plugging the documentary who took johnny” a year or so ago on twitter.  it’s an incredibly profound film that i don’t think i would have discovered without your social media connection, and you seem very invested in the issue of missing and exploited children overall.  does this advocacy extend to and become intertwined with your music?

yes.  it’s something i care a lot about and it can sometimes be emotionally challenging.  i won’t get into personal reasons why, but i think it’s important to help people.  a month ago, i was driving towards downtown milwaukee and i saw a billboard that read, “wisconsin is the 3rd highest in the nation for sex trafficking.”  it made my heart sink.

it’s sickening how big the trafficking industry is.  it happens in places you’d never think it would happen; it could happen down the street from your parents’ house.  it’s messed up.  who took johnny really opened my eyes to this terrible part of society.  i have a tendency to even get frustrated with people who don’t open their eyes and look around. it’s like i’m roddy piper from they live, with the sunglasses.  no one deserves to be taken advantage of, especially young children.

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waldemar

photo courtesy of j scott kunkel

gabe larson is an amiable guy.  the kind of guy who greets visitors with a smile and a hearty hug at the doorway; the kind of guy whose bevy of anecdotes are instantaneously vivid and relatable; the kind of guy whose sheer warmth is analogous to the steaming cup of coffee proffered ahead of a candid, hour-long interview.

larson was born in los angeles but has lived in eau claire, wisconsin, for much of his life, absorbing a midwestern culture and work ethic that permeates the gorgeous collages of sound he creates as waldemar.  the sprawling, bucolic textures of his visions ep – self-released last friday – are populated by affecting guitar melodies, improvisatorial horn arrangements, and walls of layered vocals, but an intensely personal, familial story about grappling with mental wellness is what especially resonates.

waldemar was cautiously – and privately – culled from the ashes of larson’s previous project, reverii, whose unexpected and abrupt finality heavily shook his confidence as a songwriter.  as he slowly reconstructed his artistry, larson also began confronting a multi-generational battle with depression, drawing parallels between the life of his paternal grandfather and his own.

what results is a mixture of confessional and observational; the four songs on visions build slowly and with purpose, an analog to larson’s own self-actualization as an artist and a reflection of how his outwardly genial personality can mesh with a more serious internal struggle.  side one standout “brotherly” is constructed on a warm pad of choral harmonies before spilling over into something more percussive, while closing number “signe” is also the project’s most ambitious cut, swirling every aspect of the waldemar aesthetic into a dense, ever-evolving soundscape.

visions was recorded throughout the early months of 2016 in eau claire with the help of larson’s younger brother, nick, and a host of local producers and instrumentalists.  in october, gabe and i sat in his kitchen for over an hour, nursing cups of coffee and tea while discussing all things waldemar.  the partial transcript below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

how soon after things with reverii wound down did you come to the realization that you wanted to do waldemar as a project?  what was the impetus behind that concept?

reverii ended at this really brutal crux in my life; within that time period i hadn’t even been graduated from school for a year, didn’t really have much of a job – just bouncing around all of these different part-time jobs.  i had a job as a painter for a guy in eau claire for awhile and i remember being in all of these houses staring longingly out the windows while i put tape on everything. it was this really difficult period of life where i was recently graduated and had no clue what i wanted to do; i knew i wanted to do music after i graduated, but then this band that was supposed to be the way i was going to do music ended and i was left with nothing.

that was the setting for everything, and i had to take time away from even touching music. eventually, i got to this point where i just had to write a song, and there were no expectations attached to it; i didn’t need to show it to anybody, no one had to know i was doing it.  it was just for me.

the song that ended up coming out of that process was a song called “waldemar,” and it was a song about my grandpa, wally, who lived with my family for two or three years up until he died.  he was a farmer who lived in minnesota, and he was this personification of depression for me. he was this very quiet guy who seemed, maybe not grumpy, but serious and sad – just kind of a hard person to be close to.

in stark contrast was my mother’s dad, my grandpa kermit, who was the most loving, friendliest guy ever; we spent tons of time with him, and he and i were very close.  so, from a young age i could completely perceive this stark contrast between the two of them.  i’d ask my dad why wally was the way he was, and he would respond, “oh, he has depression.  he’s depressed.”

so i was this eight year-old kid getting my first example of this thing called “depression,” and i’d later learn that it’s this thing that runs in the family tree, like being prone to a heart attack or cancer – which my family is also prone to (laughs).  i’ve got it on both sides; i’m probably going to die of a heart attack with diabetes and be clinically depressed.  you have to laugh, or else you’ll cry.

i wrote this song about waldemar exploring ways you can be connected to people you were never close with, you know.  i never wound up going to the doctor to figure out if i was clinically depressed – my dad was trying to get me to go – but for some reason i just wouldn’t.  i think i just didn’t want to know.  i wanted to have this hope that i’d come out of this funk and be okay, to not have to face any stark reality of having to carry this with me for the rest of my life.

the song was about my grandpa, but it was also about me and how i was wrestling this bout of depression.  nobody knew that i wrote this song – i was writing it for me – but the song felt really good and honest because of that; it was a very pure writing experience. it’s very hard to write a song without thinking about your audience or how it will be critically received, but none of that was in my mind; it was just what felt right.

do you see a big difference between the music written for reverii and the music written for waldemar?   what’s the biggest shift in your approach to songwriting?

both bands sound quite a bit different to me; even the way that i sang with reverii versus the way i sing with waldemar sounds like two different singers to me.  which is weird, because i don’t feel like i was trying to do anything with my voice in either project.

i think the difference comes down to the songwriting process.  i’ve relied on other people, up to this point, far less with waldemar than I did with reverii.  i would come up with ideas but was pretty timid about them in a lot of ways; it would have to pass through a filter.  with waldemar, i’m listening mostly just to myself with how the songs take shape.

but that’s been changing a lot lately, especially over the last six months when we started recording this record.  my brother nick is a super gifted songwriter.  he played bass in reverii, but wasn’t really part of the core group of songwriters.  he was super young when he was in that band – i think a senior year in high school.  he’s gotten more involved in the songwriting process at the ground level when i’m just starting to work on a song.  he’ll be in the room with me and act as a sounding board, or just affirm an idea.  sometimes it’s nice to have a person around whose musical opinion you trust.  he and i have been treading into co-writing territory lately with waldemar stuff.

lyrically and conceptually, waldemar is mostly informed by personal and familial experiences, but aesthetically, there’s reference to a choral background; what else do you lean on?  these songs are very ornately arranged and dense.  what are you using as a jumping off or reference point?

when i’m really into writing mode i try to clear my palate and not listen to any music.  there’s been times where i’ll listen to a song that inspires me to write, and the finished product clearly reflects that inspiration.  so i try to clear my brain as much as possible to just be listening to myself, if that makes sense.

the way that i think about music is very much informed by my experience with classical and choral music.  you’ll never catch me in the kitchen doing dishes to mozart, but my mom had me in piano lessons as a kid.  piano always has so many parts working together to create one thing – even more so than a lot of other instruments.  you have ten fingers that can play different notes at different times and be moving in melody and harmony – even more so than what you can do with a guitar.

i’ve been in a choir since i was six all the way through college.  the past two years have been the first of my conscious life that i haven’t been in choir, and that’s shaped the way i think about music; i think in terms of layers, and the ways that different textures, timbres, pitches, melodies and harmonies can work together to create one sound.

i’ve performed way more with a choir than i ever have with a band, and have spent more hours in rehearsal with a choir than i ever have with a band, still, just because most of my life has been spent in a choir.  i think that’s a pretty inescapable part of the way i think about music.  it’s hard for me to say that it’s an influence, per se, but it’s the way i grew up thinking about music.

i think a lot of bands try not to list their influences because they want to be thought of as this total unique thing; i try to not shy away from that totally, just in the interest of recognizing that all of art is some sort of weird remix, in a way.  you as an individual have this own unique collection of influences mixed with your own creativity, which then becomes your own contribution to the world.

i was pretty late to the game on the national.  trouble will find me is now one of my favorite records, but i really only started getting into the national within the last year.  i don’t think i’ve had enough time with that band to name it as an influence for me, but some things i hear in waldemar are these layers and depth that seem inspired by the national.

i also hear elements of my morning jacket’s the waterfall.  something that i love about jim james’ vocal style is that there are times where he just doesn’t seem to care what he sounds like.  he doesn’t mind the sound of clipped-out vocals, and there are times when the vocals just aren’t in tune.  with my choral background, there are times where i just can’t stand that, but there’s something about the way jim james does it that i absolutely love.  there are some vocals in “signe” that are totally inspired by what jim james does on the waterfall.

Waldemar Headshot - Andrew Nepsund

photo courtesy of j scott kunkel

who else was involved with the recording process?

both of our producers – evan middlesworth and brian joseph – were huge in the recording process in terms of refinement.  my good friend andrew thoreen, who’s in this great minneapolis band har-di-har – as well as in j.e. sunde and just generally all over the place right now – recorded all the trombone arrangements that are on the record.

evan performed some minor parts – well, i shouldn’t say minor – he wrote some bass lines on the record that are just creamy.  he’s great at being like “hey, this isn’t working; you should try this” and doing it in a way that doesn’t make you feel stupid.  and his suggestions are spot-on.  prior to recording with evan, he had hired me on as an engineer out at pine hollow, so we had gotten the chance to work on records and develop some artistic chemistry together.  it’s so important to have a great level of trust with the person you’re working with.

brian has his own studio called the hive, and it’s gorgeous.  brian and evan are both two different types of musicians and producers; evan is very instinctual with decisions, which is super helpful, while brian really saturates himself in the sound and really thinks through the nitty-gritty.  that’s how i think, so going through the mixes was a really long process.  we went through mix revisions for awhile.

did you record some tracks with evan and some with brian, or were they taking independent looks at the same tracks?

evan engineered everything – well, almost everything.  ten percent of the tracking actually happened here at home, mostly vocals and some random guitar bits as well.  all of the tracking was done before it ever went to brian; evan did some standard reference mixes, and it was sounding great before it ever hit brian, who then took over and the songs came to life even more. 

i basically handed over the reference mixes to brian and gave him zero direction.  i wanted him to really approach it with an artist’s mind and not be thinking about what i wanted it to sound like. i wanted him to present me with different ideas for how everything can sound, and then i’d listen and pick and choose.  i had my idea of how everything should sound, and i wanted his work to either confirm the ideas i originally had or to present me with something i never would have thought of.  we went back and forth with that model for about two and a half months.

the four songs on this release are kind of long.  it feels like a more significant body of work than just your customary introductory ep.

yeah, visions tops out at just about thirty minutes.  track-wise, it looks like an ep; lengthwise, it’s toeing the line between ep and lp. 

the ep itself is split into two halves, in a lot of ways.  “totem” and “brotherly” are pretty old songs; they were kind of from the reverii days.  “visions” and “signe” were written within six to eight months of recording.  

the last two are much more in the vein of where waldemar is headed, whereas “totem” and “brotherly” are kind of these artifacts, the skeleton of reverii.  the sound of reverii with a waldemar spin.  i’m not trying to distance myself from them, but they don’t feel like waldemar songs as much, in a way.  i don’t think they’d work in the context of a waldemar full-length.

when did you switch from calling the initial song “waldemar” to ascribing that name to the project itself?  was there a specific moment, or was it more of a gradual absorption?

that’s a great question.  i’m not trying to be some sort of mysterious artist, but honestly, i’m still trying to figure out the answer to that question myself.  the short of it is that somehow, at some point, it just felt like that’s what it had to be called; this is what it needs to be.  there’s something under the surface within me now that feels drawn towards this name, that feels that this is what the project needs to be called.

it feels strange that this band isn’t called kermit, after the grandfather i’m super close with.  he was dying of cancer during the first tour we did with waldemar, and we had to cancel one of our last shows to go be with him.  he ended up dying a week later.  it was strange being on that tour – named after a guy we weren’t close with – meanwhile, the other grandfather – who we were close with – was dying.

in some ways, i wonder if i’m trying to reclaim this legacy of my grandpa wally that feels not anywhere close to the legacy kermit left.  am i trying to redefine what his name means to me?  i don’t know.

when i hear the name wally – or waldemar – i see the face of depression, in a weird way.  i currently battle depression all the time, so sometimes i wonder if the reason i named my band after him was some way of facing one of my greatest vices. in some way, the name “waldemar” describes me; it’s like looking at your vice square in the face.

i think we carry with us a lot of hurt, shame, and problems, and the only way to heal from those is to bring them to light and call them what they are.  for me, it’s depression, but there’s a myriad of things that other people wrestle with.  a lot of times i think we just silently carry those around, and i’m of the opinion that true healing can only take place when things are brought to light,talked about, and wrested with intentionally.  maybe naming the band waldemar is some sort of therapeutic way of naming this struggle overall, of looking at it straight in the face and doing battle with.

that’s one thing i’ve been pondering.

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little-kid

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little kid doesn’t venture much outside of their hometown, but you’d be quick on the draw to peg their music as insular.  the toronto trio, founded and fronted by kenny boothby, has churned out introspective lo-fi musings sprinkled with religious imagery and philosophical pondering for more than a half-decade now.

last month, little kid released their latest album, flowers, a fuzzed-out, sprawling epic that could easily serve as the band’s definitive piece of work.  we recently caught up with boothby via e-mail for an in-depth conversation about aesthetic choices, the lack of electric guitars on flowers, and new lyrical focuses.  check out the transcript below.

there’s been a three-year gap in between river of blood and flowers, which is a longer break between any of your other projects, i think, by a considerable amount.  was this gestation period intentionally long?

i wouldn’t say it was intentional – to be honest, i was frustrated with myself for how long it took, but it’s just the way it ended up happening.  brodie and i started recording in january of 2015, thinking we’d definitely have it finished by the summer of that same year since it was mostly already written.  

the primary cause of the delay was just the three of us having busy lives – we are all working full-time with very different schedules, so it was sometimes hard to get together.  we started playing more shows around toronto, too, which was great, but it definitely seemed like when we did manage to get together it was more often to rehearse than to record.  i have no regrets, though!  i’m happy with how it turned out, and being able to play live more often definitely helped us figure out what we wanted to do with some of these songs.

a certain lo-fi exterior still remains on the bulk of flowers, but the arrangements underneath feel thicker and more ornate this time around.  was there a specific tone or timbre you sought for this album, and if so, was it consciously different than past works?

the overall sound of the album was fairly deliberate, and i think we started with at least a vague idea of how we wanted to approach this one, but it certainly went through some changes over the course of recording.  i recall having some conversations with brodie early on, and we agreed that we wanted to play around with some more unconventional sounds and recording methods than we had on river of blood.  

the plan was always to have paul play some bass on the album, but brodie and i did a bit of the initial recording ourselves with the plan to have brodie mix it, as he had with river of blood.  but we ended up playing a few shows with paul on bass until it felt like we had a good thing going band-wise, and paul is more experienced with mixing, so we asked him to take over.  

from then on, it was very much a team effort, with us all coming up with ideas for arrangements and recording techniques.

this might be an addendum of sorts to the last question, but a liner note on bandcamp i found rather intriguing was in regards to the lack of electric guitars on this album.  you still manage some absolutely massive walls of sound in their absence, but i’m wondering if that omission was due to exhaustion or if it was posed as a sort of challenge?

it was definitely posed as something of a challenge.  the songs i was writing early on seemed at first to be songs that would lend themselves to the electric guitar, mostly because i was strumming hard and bending a lot of notes – some somewhat non-traditional stuff for a classical guitar, i guess.  

but i liked the way the demos sounded – usually a couple layers of classical guitar, and sometimes some piano or casio keyboard – and for some reason i wanted to just keep playing them on the classical. brodie and i were occasionally having conversations about what we might try with little kid next, and that idea stuck around long enough to become a sort of rule.

i like albums that have some sort of restriction to them – for example, the headphones album that is purely live drums and one or two synthesizer parts, or gillian welch’s time (the revelator)‘s emphasis on first takes.  i love that shit.  it’s why i prefer writing demos on the four-track, too – having some sort of limitation seems to stimulate ingenuity or something.

anyways, it was sometimes challenging to create interesting dynamics without electric guitars.  during live shows, i have typically been playing the classical through a guitar amp and pedals, and we use a lot more distortion for dynamics, but on the record we wanted to stay away from that and try for some lusher, stranger sounds.  

some of the ambient bits came from a day brodie and i spent playing keyboards through guitar pedals, and i spent many an afternoon alone in my room playing around with micro-cassettes and my memory boy (honestly, the best guitar pedal).


biblical images and references were pretty overt on river of blood; they’re still around on flowers but they don’t necessarily feel as explicit or immediate.  was this a conscious shift?

i’d say it was a mix of conscious and unconscious.  i remember having some conversations with friends who don’t have any history with christianity and wondering what it was like for them to listen to the songs i had written that relied a lot on those images and references.  i imagined it could easily become either boring or alienating.  i started thinking about, like, led zeppelin or prog-rock bands who sing about lord of the rings and shit – i don’t necessarily want to listen to people drop semi-obscure references to bodies of work i don’t have any connection with.

obviously, for people who had a similar upbringing, those types of songs can be really meaningful, and i don’t regret spending some time exploring those concepts when they felt very real and important to me.  but, i don’t spend much time with those ideas in my personal life anymore, so it wouldn’t make too much sense to keep writing about them.

but i don’t think it was necessarily something i was consciously thinking about while writing.  it wasn’t like “oh shit, i mentioned jesus again – better cut that line.”  it seemed a little more natural than that.  i just wrote about the things i was thinking a lot about during that time.

little kid songs have never been shy about wandering beyond a length perceived as conventional, and that’s certainly the case on flowers.  furthermore, i’m picking up on ambient addenda, patient vamps that eventually border on monolithic, and lyrical codas that haven’t really factored into your songwriting before, at least not to this degree.  were there any bodies of work that were specifically informative to the creation of this album?

i don’t think the three of us discussed too many direct influences in terms of song structure as we were recording and writing the album, but i know towards the end, as we were sequencing and mixing it, we spent some time talking about how the album was taking shape and what we wanted to accomplish with it.

in hindsight, we had just finished “missionary” and it was one of the most unconventional in terms of its structure, with that long repetitive jam and the noisy bit in the middle, and i think, having gone there with that song, we might have felt a bit more inclined to mess with the other songs and the overall sequencing a bit more.

i remember brodie was saying he felt like the album had started to have a bit of a similar feel to (modest mouse’s) the moon and antarctica – which is alright by me because that’s possibly my favorite album.  for me, i think wilco – in particular yankee hotel foxtrot and a ghost is born – kinda snuck in as a big influence, as well.  believe it or not, i hadn’t heard any wilco records prior to, like, late 2013, but it was pretty mind-blowing for me when i finally heard it.

so i think the whole “pop song with weird shit going on underneath” thing we have going on in some of these songs is definitely influenced by yankee hotel foxtrot, and some of the more seemingly-self-indulgent aspects might come from a ghost is born, as well.  i don’t think the songs themselves resemble wilco songs very much at all, but the approach to recording and production might be similar in some ways.

i do remember we had decided, before we even started recording, that we wanted to make an eight-song album.  i’m not sure why initially – at least in my case, i just like the number eight and the way it can be split up into halves and quarters nicely (although in the end, our album turned out to be five songs on side a and three songs on side b, which makes me mathematically uncomfortable…)

anyways, i know we definitely talked a lot about great eight-song albums like the king of limbs, on the beach, owls.  i don’t think flowers has a whole lot in common – sonically or in terms of the sequencing – with any of those albums, but we’re in good company.

the last time we spoke, little kid was primarily a recording project that occasionally functioned as a live band, but couldn’t really tour or play out all that frequently.  have circumstances changed?  are there any plans to tour in support of flowers?

circumstances have changed a fair bit – we are definitely able to play more often and even occasionally venture out of toronto.  for the last year and a bit, little kid has had a stable lineup of myself, and my two good friends, brodie germain and paul vroom, on drums and bass, respectively.  we all went to high school together and have played music together for years, so it’s a really great time playing with them.  we mostly just play a show in toronto every couple months, but we’ve got to play with some awesome bands this past year.

we are thinking about trying to put together a small tour within canada sometime in the next year, but i don’t know exactly if and when we’ll be able to get that together.  we’re hoping to keep up the momentum of playing together regularly, but we’re planning to play fewer shows and focus on writing and recording a new album right away.  we’re wanting to do a lot more live recording this time, and we have a new practice space that is going to make that a lot more feasible, so we can hopefully get something interesting finished a little faster – we’re hoping sometime next year.

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the prescient arrival of the future’s here & it’s terrible was hard to ignore.  2016 had already registered as an extraordinarily bleak year, but the ep – the second from dream-pop duo see you at home – came on the cusp of a defeating and volatile summer, one that’s still in full-swing.  see you at home confronts that bleakness head-on titularly and attempts to reconcile with it sonically, crafting intimate sketches that pulse slowly, allowing for ample introspection amidst sparse guitar soundscapes.  we recently caught up with the duo to talk about their nascent project and longstanding friendship.  check out the transcript below.

see you at home is a relatively new project, at least from a consumer’s perspective.  could you detail a bit of history behind the band?  how long have you two been making music together?

we’ve been playing music for quite a long while now; both of us have known each other since we were four years old, and we’ve been making music together since we were fourteen.  we had another band before this, but eventually that broke apart when some of us went to uni and got jobs.  see you at home kind of spawned when my (josh’s) uni timetable gave me a day off in the week and i decided to try and make some lo fi songs in a bathroom.  it was literally just a guitar and an 808 drum for the beat, and we liked the sound of it so we decided to expand on the idea.

your songs are incredibly intimate and feel effortless in their execution, the byproduct of what must be a very fruitful collaboration.  can you speak a bit on your songwriting process, and if you notice any clear benefits to working as a duo?

thank you so much!  the effortlessness is a product of layers and layers of obsessive production on my (josh’s) end, haha, and then the cool, calm-headed musical ear of arthur.  i would spend hours trying to get certain sounds to come through in the mix properly (to the point of insanity) and then arthur comes in to fix any doubts.  that’s definitely the main benefit for me for working in a duo; it’s hard to tell if a song is good or terrible having worked on it for so long, like when you hear a word too much and it doesn’t sound like a real word anymore. 

a lot of the collaboration and musicality comes from us knowing each other for basically our whole lives, i think.  when we jam out our songs we can usually get into a pretty cool flow quite easily because we share a similar mindset musically.  in terms of our songwriting process, i think it’s quite muddled.  we’ll usually stitch together thoughts and lyrics we’ve had at various points in our life that have a similar theme to try and create coherent songs from honest, sometimes scattered emotions.

titularly, the tone of your two eps couldn’t be more different.  was your collective headspace noticeably different while writing the material for the future’s here & it’s terrible than it was for everything is okay?

definitely.  there was a big shift in our collective emotions going through both eps.  i guess for the first ep we had just left uni and the world felt free and open and we were, to an extent, positive.  the second ep, a few months later, was a shift in tone when we realized the stark reality of real life, haha.  that said, a lot of the underlying themes in everything is okay were still quite sorrowful, but i feel like the way we handled those feelings was with a more optimistic outlook than the second ep.

what five songs would constitute the perfect see you at home mixtape?

ooh, that is a tough question.  there are so many songs that we’d love to put on the mixtape, haha.  i’d say that we’d go for the following eclectic mix, some of which we’ve drawn on for inspiration, and others which have resonated with us at various times in the last couple of years.

deptford goth – “feel real”
la dispute – “nine”
bon iver – “holocene”
brand new – “jesus christ”
julien baker – “sprained ankle”

at the rate you’ve been releasing music, a new ep could potentially surface before the year’s end, but that expectation is admittedly presumptuous.  are there any concrete plans for more see you at home material at this time?

at the moment we’re trying to sort out our live set, as we’d love to do some gigs, but we absolutely want to put out as much music as possible.  while there’s no definitive timeline, we are busy trying to make some skeleton tracks and demos.

both everything is okay and the future’s here & it’s terrible are available to stream and purchase from see you at home’s bandcamp page.  both actions are highly recommended; the duo’s compact catalogue serves as a much-needed refuge from life’s unsavory portions.  indulge.