interview – apollo vermouth

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

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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interview – waldemar

– featured images 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

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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interview – see you at home

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

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.

premiere – alexei shishkin

Alexei_press_3
photo courtesy of adam smith

the consistency of alexei shishkin’s output has made him a regular fixture on the dimestore since early 2015, when singles from the dog tape began floating listlessly through inboxes and headphones.  shishkin creates the kind of bedroom guitar-pop still capable of turning heads in what’s become a very saturated market of home-recorded music; this past february’s excellent yucca street is a testament to this fact, and we’ll let our review of that album do a bit more talking.

we recently caught up with shishkin via e-mail for a quick chat about the general state of things; as a constant creator, it comes as no surprise that he’s been slowly honing a collection of seven cover songs over the past year, a multi-decade snapshot of influences filtered through his signature aesthetic.  we’re more than happy to help shishkin send it off into the ether today.

the aptly-named covers premieres below, after the interview transcript. dig in.

how are things?  your twitter location puts you in new york these days; has the city been conducive to songwriting?

yeah, good good.  i am indeed in new york now – moved here in december.  it actually hasn’t been very conducive for me, believe it or not.  i’m not very comfortable making too much noise where i live right now, so that means when i practice i try to keep it down, and that’s especially shitty for trying to sing.  i felt most comfortable singing and playing back in portland.  while i guess that’s not actually “songwriting,” i tend to improvise most of the words anyways, so i wouldn’t say i do much songwriting, to be honest.

yucca street has been out for a few months; are you the type to let a release percolate for awhile, or have you started picking away at a new project?

if it was up to me, i’d put out everything immediately when i think it’s done.  luckily, matt (at forged artifacts) tends to act as a filter, so fortunately he keeps me from releasing a bunch of half-baked garbage every week.  but yeah, the next full-length thing is due out this fall, the one after that probably spring 2017. (i hope?)  obviously, there’s this covers thing; i’m also doing a weird little side project called celebrity drum circle and cooking up something with my buddy connor of fjord explorer.  i’m hoping to make a trip to rhode island sometime this summer or fall to big nice studio to actually properly record some stuff, maybe – that’s still up in the air.

this might be tangential to your last response, but i’ve gathered via tweets that you’re not too enamored with performing with a live band.  is your sense of artistry more grounded in the act of creation and refinement of a collection of songs?

haha!  that’s a very articulate way of putting it.  honestly, it would be cool to have a band to write and record with, but yeah, touring and shit just seems like such a hassle: coordinating everyone getting off work at the same time, booking all the dates, finding someone with a van, hauling gear around, etc.  it just seems like a logistical pain in the ass with little to no return.  if i had to be part of a band, i’d rather hang around with a group of friends and write and record and just have a good time.

i listened to the original versions of the list of cover songs you sent over.  some were familiar to me, but most weren’t, yet i could pick out their influence on your work pretty easily.  could you speak on the significance of a couple of them and why they wound up in this collection?

yeah, definitely.

“the only one” is a tune my friend ryan (pollie) of los angeles police department wrote.  in a nutshell, ryan is the reason i even got hooked up with forged artifacts in the first place.  without him, i didn’t even realize it was possible to release the music i recorded.

“tell me when it’s over” is a tune by the dream syndicate, a band from california that was around in the 1980s doing the jangle pop stuff (paisley underground) and they had a really great record called days of wine and roses.

“sunny” is just a fun one to noodle around on; infectious progression.

“heaven is a truck” is because i’m a pavement fanboy (sorry not sorry.)

premiere – two castles

two castles lead
photo courtesy of kyle lehman

eric charles christenson is somewhat of a renaissance man.  a managing editor at a local magazine and an active member in the chippewa valley’s burgeoning stand-up comedy scene, christenson has also been creating slices of lo-fi pop for years, first as wisconsin built and more recently as two castles.  last spring’s dream room ep found christenson incorporating more electronic elements into his home-recorded template, a practice that extended to, and was refined on, subsequent two castles tracks like “bonfire” and “liquor.”

a new year has yielded new material.  christenson’s latest two castles ep, night talk, is a concise three-song collection (plus a supplemental remix), with mournful vocal melodies stretched across an intimate digital soundscape.  we caught up with christenson outside a coffee shop in eau claire at the tail-end of 2015 to talk about transitioning projects, songwriting approaches, and his involvement in the minneapolis-based collective lowkey radical.  after appearing in a slightly different form on a split cassette last month, the finished version of night talk is premiering in full here on dimestore saints; find the tracks embedded in our exclusive interview, condensed and edited for clarity, below.

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you phased out wisconsin built & started doing two castles towards the end of 2014.  what was the precipitation behind switching projects?

wisconsin built kind of phased itself out.  it was one of those things where we all abruptly moved away, and none of us took it seriously enough that we thought about it when we weren’t together; it just kind of dissolved.  i wasn’t really thinking about playing music that much because i was working and moving around a lot and figuring that whole thing out.  i’d dinked around on some sounds when i lived in minneapolis, but the creative energy in eau claire once i moved back made me want to write songs again.

i always thought of wisconsin built as pretty lo-fi, yet organic in the sense of its instrumentation, but two castles feels decidedly more synthetic.

it’s a shift in production.  i used to worry more about live instruments, but then i started plunking around with electronics and making samples and stuff.  i did that a bit with wisconsin built, like recording weird sounds, then sampling them and repeating it and making rhythmic things out of noise, but it had never been so central to the song.  they were either guitar-driven or organ-driven, basically.  i haven’t lived in a place where i could have a drum set for a long time, and i’ve grown to like electronic music a lot more, so i don’t know, it’s been a natural progression towards starting to think about that stuff.

do you find any tenets of wisconsin built’s core methodology seeping into two castles?

i think so.  well, a little bit.  i mean, i didn’t completely throw out the playbook; i feel like the songwriting is still the same.  i write songs in two chunks usually: a theme and a verse, and then a chorus.  it would just be two halves, and then i wouldn’t go back to the verse or anything.  just do it and get it over with.  so that’s kind of the same; i still find myself writing two castles songs in chunks, but they’re just more complex chunks.

night talk feels a bit sharper, more pristine.  is that an evolution of what you want your sound to be like, or is it more a result of you learning how to get the most out of your setup?

i think it’s both. two castles has been a learning process.  i’m playing live instruments, but they’re midi-controlled, and i’m learning computer programs and patching sounds and learning how to manipulate new effects.  there’s certain tricks electronic producers have that acoustic artists don’t, so it’s learning how to do all of that while maintaining the lo-fi aspect.  

i felt like the wisconsin built concept was a bit too lo-fi, even for my tastes.  it used to be okay with me when i was casually putting stuff out, but it frustrated me when i started taking things more seriously.  i still crave that lo-fi sound and want to produce that and have it be accessible.  you can still make it fuzzy and sound like you know what the fuck you’re doing, you know?  people don’t trust lo-fi music because they don’t think the artists are taking it seriously, but adding an extra level of intricacy gives me a little more clout, which is nice.  i think people trust that the lo-fi thing is on purpose when everything else lines up.

these are all songs i’d written this fall, or added to and figured out.  “two tuff” is probably the most straight-up pop song i’ve ever written.  when you write a chorus like that, it’s hard not to repeat it.  it’s definitely the biggest song i’ve ever done; everything had been sort of minimal up until that point.  i want to be thought of as someone who’s good at pop hooks and can writing interesting and complex songs, not just someone who makes shitty lo-fi stuff.

are you listening to anyone different on purpose to go after that sound?

i’ve gotten into the soundcloud game; that’s where i find the majority of my music.  people are putting out half-beats all the time; it’s really casual, and you can see how that creative process works.  i’ve been trying to find lo-fi stuff, but there isn’t a lot.  a lot of people rip vinyl, make it lo-fi and add chill hip-hop beats behind it and have all their album artwork as anime characters, but i don’t know if anyone’s going at it as seriously or at the same angle as i am.

jamie xx has some lo-fi flourishes in his work; i loved his record that came out.  people like shlomo have that lo-fi flavor while keeping really fast hi-hats and fuzzy bass tones.  i fuck with that vibe.  my older stuff is shlomo-influenced, shuffly sounds and stuff.  i’m still listening to a lot of indie rock, and i think that comes through.

you’ve been doing releases a bit differently than before: a string of singles and now this ep.  is this a more desired way of putting out material now?

i used to detest this, but this is what a lot of mainstream pop artists do: they just put out five singles and then drop a six-track album or something.  i don’t need to drop an album or anything.  i don’t have enough songs where i’m jonesing to release a huge statement piece.  i enjoy making songs, so when i finish one i have the urge to put it out.  i feel like that’s an efficient way to do it; you make sure people hear each song, and it’s a gradual way to get people into your stuff.  when you do that too, people can see your progression as an artist.

you don’t see yourself ever putting out a full-length?

not for awhile.  eventually, probably, but at this point i’m fine just doing a little bit at a time.  it’s easy for people to digest, it’s easy for me to make.

two castles kelsey smith
photo courtesy of kelsey smith

how are live shows going?

i’ve been playing some really sweet shows, like the local aire festival and leaqfest.  i played at lake house a bunch of times; we had a show at the mousetrap in october with ego death from the twin cities and danger ron & the spins.  i think people fuck with it; when you’re a lo-fi person, the sound is always dicey, no matter where you play.  sometimes it sounds amazing, like at local aire, and other times it just sounds like fucking trash.  i’ve had more really good shows than the handful of weird shows that have happened.  i really fuck with this material though, more so than with the wisconsin built stuff; i never really felt good about that.  but it’s nice feeling confident about the stuff you’re putting out so you can actually give a shit about what you’re doing.

it seemed like everyone left in the eau claire scene in the fall of 2014 started merging together, started working with each other exclusively on new projects, so i wasn’t too surprised to see lowkey radical come out of that.  i’ve only really talked to eric (wells, bka sayth) about it; what’s your level of involvement?

the lowkey radical thing acts more as a collective than as a label.  eric hit me up about it awhile ago.  we were already playing shows together and collaborating on different things; alex (tronson, bka north house) and i are making songs together, alex and serena (wagner, bka sniffle party) are making songs, serena and i are making songs.  it was sort of a natural spirit of collaboration.  we all have different styles, so it made sense to put an umbrella on it.

do you think having that collective platform helps broaden your accessibility to audiences that wouldn’t otherwise find you?

i’ve seen it, yeah.  we dropped this tape and now i think a lot of people are going to hear my stuff that haven’t before because of sayth.  i don’t want to feel like i’m leeching off his popularity, but anytime anyone releases something, the squad just puts out the call and you make a big splash on social media.  it’s teamwork.  it’s a lot easier to go at something from a collective standpoint, to think about where the label’s at and how your stuff can fit into that puzzle.  if any one of us happens to blow up, it would have this residual effect on everyone else.  we’re all taking bets on each other, and it helps that we really actually fuck with everyone else’s music.

we can collaborate on different things musically, but i can hit eric up about a show or something, we can share a pool of resources and brainpower.  the label elevates the level of our music, i think; it’s nice to have people to bounce ideas off of, especially when you’re a solo artist.  alex and i always bounce beats off each other. he’s the person i send all my stuff to, even when it’s not done.

do you want to step back and do more physical releases?

i think so.  i think i could put this ep out on cd or something.  it would be nice to have, especially after a show, because people might really like the music, but i’m relying on them to go to my soundcloud page. and i’m not even telling them to do that when i’m on stage.  i’m having fun writing songs and playing shows, but if i’m going to take this more seriously there’s going to have to be more stuff like that.  the fact that i’m not relying on this financially helps.

does that lack of urgency help your creative process?

i think so, yeah.  i’m a slow writer in almost everything.  it takes me awhile to fully form an idea, so this gives me time to get things right.  i take a lot of old ideas and let them sit for a minute, then revisit them and polish.  i’ll make a minute-and-a-half beat and i’ll bounce that, put it on a mix cd and drive around listening to it in my car, maybe write some lyrics to it and record them on a voice memo.  if you listened to the voice memos on my phone it would be hella embarrassing because you can barely hear the beat through the speakers and it’s just me belting while i’m watching traffic hoping no cop sees me.

it takes time to collect all the pieces i need to feel good about a song.  that happened with “porch.”  i had an old version of that song that i thought was done and i was sitting on it forever, then i revisited it and added some layers, and now it’s ready.

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you can acquire a digital copy of night talk by navigating to this link.  for more two castles information, click any of the following options below.

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premiere – sayth

sayth
photo courtesy of spencer wells

eric wells is a fixture in wisconsin’s diy scene right now.  he gigs constantly around the state and frequently crosses the state line to rap in the minneapolis/st. paul area; when he’s not performing, wells dedicates a majority of his time to tirelessly promoting the other local musicians around him, enthusiastically sharing their new work via co-ordinated social media blasts and plugging all-ages events.  this tireless networking has yielded fruitful results; much of this past year has been spent developing lowkey radical, a burgeoning record label that hosts many of wells’ most-trusted collaborators.

one of the label’s first releases will be body pillow, a four-track co-op between wells and alex tronson, a minneapolis-bred producer who performs as north house.  the duo chose to eschew conventional release format, opting instead to slowly share each song individually before sending out pre-ordered physical copies; so far, body pillow has featured “pink pistols” with its searing macklemore slam and “a formal apology to grandma wells,” a non-sequitur-laced commentary on awkward family vacations with a prominent guest verse from wealthy relative.

 

the project’s third single, “maybe god is afraid of us?”, is comparatively introspective, defined by a murky, futuristic north house beat and a heartbreaking display of vulnerability from wells as he anticipates the inevitable end of a relationship.  compounded by an indelible guest hook from baby blanket, the track is a pensive comedown, providing extensive levels of depth and contrast to body pillow as a cohesive unit.  “maybe god is afraid of us?” is streaming for the first time ever right here on dimestore saints; listen to the premiere above, and read on below for an exclusive interview with sayth about the creation of body pillow and his plans for the new label.

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you worked with north house a bit on bad habitat last year. what led the two of you to want to make a fully collaborative project?

since the release of bad habitat, north house has become one of my best friends.  last winter i started performing with him more and more, just to have someone else to jump around with on stage and hang with in green rooms.  i have a lot of respect for his drive as a producer.  he’ll sit down and spend whole days working on one beat and he’s constantly posting them on places like reddit’s r/futurebeats, searching for critique and feedback.  i’ve seen his production style improve and evolve solely from having the ambition to ask for help and take advice.  this ep just felt really natural; i’d have new raps and be like, “you got any beats?”  he’d play me something and i’d jump around and just start rapping to it.  that’s how the whole thing happened; we just did whatever felt right.  i love working with him because he has his own lane and an impressive body of solo work.  he’s also one of the easiest people to travel with and likes to party just as much as i do, so that doesn’t hurt.

what’s the ethos behind body pillow?  what frame of mind were you in when writing its material?

the bulk of this project was written in late 2014/early 2015, in the cold wisconsin winter.  i was drinking a lot of whiskey and living on a shoestring budget.  to me, each track on body pillow seems to have a more concrete theme than bad habitat’s songs did, though that was never my intention setting out.  for example, i wrote my verse for “a formal apology to grandma wells” about a vacation i took with my family to north carolina where i basically just drank johnny walker red and sat by the pool the whole time feeling like a loser.  when we took the trip i had just turned twenty-one and was living illegally in a tiny shared room near downtown eau claire, still unsure if dropping out of college was the right choice.  pair that with a week-long family reunion in a house with all of my cousins and you get a verse full of self-doubt and uneasiness.

the two tracks released so far lean heavily on outside contributions, be it videography or a guest verse.  how important have your friends been to the shape body pillow has taken?

very important.  in the last year i’ve really started surrounding myself with friends that create music-related content in some way, whether that’s design, video work, beats, raps, whatever.  a solid portion of navigating my place in music has been figuring out what i’m good at, and what my friends are better at.  i can rap, but i can’t design my way out of a paper bag or storyboard a video – well, i could, but not on a professional level.  i feel very blessed.  dan forke, whom i’ve been friends with since middle school, has done wonders as my art director.  my brother spencer is a professional photographer and is super experienced with video work.  north house knows how to master a track in a flash, and make it sound radio-ready.  that’s the idea of lowkey radical: we all contribute our strengths to each other’s art so that the content we put out is the best it can be.  sayth on a surface level is just me rapping, but there’s a squad of people helping me out.

the production on “maybe god is afraid of us?” feels a bit darker and more cerebral than other tracks on body pillow.  did this inform your lyrical direction at all?

i actually wrote those two verses to a riley lake beat.  i played two shows with him in early november of 2014 and he gave me a beat tape he had produced.  after i wrote it i asked him about the beat and he said rory (ferreira, aka milo, aka scallops hotel) had already claimed it.  so then i found this north house beat and i thought the verses fit really well.  i wrote the hook in january and tried to sing it with some autotune but it was sounding really goofy.  then we added luke (baby blanket) recently and it felt solid right away; his voice already sounds autotuned.

“maybe god is afraid of us?” feels very tender.  can you speak to your headspace for this particular track, abstractly if need-be?

i wrote that song while i was in a relationship and essentially predicted its expiration.  the song is about losing productivity to love and the anxieties that come with that.  love is expensive.

what’s next for you?  are you going to play out with the body pillow material for awhile, or are you looking ahead to new projects?

we’re cutting more tracks for a november or december release.  i moved to minneapolis recently; i’m living at a basement venue called green greens with alex adkinson (formerly of soflty, dear) and he basically has a studio in his room so we can record whenever we want.  i love living here.  i sleep in the basement and it’s grungy and i feel like a pirate.  tickle torture is playing here in september; i love that i can sit in my bed and watch bands play.  luke, wealthy, and north house are always around so we’re cooking up new songs all the time.

as far as immediate releases go, i’m focusing most of my effort on getting out eps for the rest of the label.  dan has one set to go for late august, astral samara is dropping his debut tape in september, and we have a lowkey radical compilation tape coming out in october.

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one more collaborative track from sayth and north house is due soon.  we’ll also be following the developments of lowkey radical closely as the fall progresses.  stream “maybe god is afraid of us?” one more time to let it sink in, and then visit sayth and north house on all of their socials.

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interview – yumi zouma

photo courtesy of landon speers
photo courtesy of landon speers

yumi zouma finished strong in 2014, and we speculated that new material might be on the way sooner rather than later.  sure enough, the new zealand outfit began teasing ep ii early in the new year, culminating in its official release yesterday via cascine.  we were extremely fortunate to catch up with the band’s vocalist kim pflaum via email, who chatted with us about the yumi zouma writing process, the band’s affinity for different places in the world, and audiobooks.  check out the transcript below.

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ep ii is a wonderful second outing; you all should be very proud.  can you outline some of the conceptual goals for this record?

thank you very much!  we worked in the same way as the first ep and i think with the two the only goal was to make songs we were proud to play to our friends.  honestly, if i send a track to friend and they react positively it means so much to me.  it stems from friends showing me new music and falling in love with it.  friends are my main path to new music and luckily they all have good taste!  so if i show them a new yumi track and they dig it i respect that, because i know our tastes are aligned.

vocal melodies dominate the majority of your work, but there’s a lot going on underneath the surface that either informs or supports those melodies.  how is a yumi zouma song typically constructed?

it really changes from song to song.  sometimes there is a melody that sticks in a rough sketch where the arrangement is very simple, or not fully developed, and then everything gets built up around it.  other times we have a really fleshed-out bed with production and chord progressions and find a ‘top line’ that sticks.  melody is so important to us; it’s what gets stuck in your head!  it would be very rare that the way drums sound or something becomes an ear worm.

 

has the transition from recording project to live band had a noticeable impact on how you approach songwriting?

not really!  i think writing songs with live performance in mind doesn’t work for a band like yumi.  a recorded track has so many layers in it that help us drive the dynamics.  live you can do that in a different way so you’re not so reliant on layering.  it would be a big mistake to let live limitations or live performance influence our songwriting.  it would be like a golf player letting his golf swing affect his love life.

do you have any plans to congregate and focus solely on yumi zouma, or are you still spread out across the globe?

nope!  josh loves new york; charlie doesn’t like it so much here.  josh loves paris but can’t speak french.  christie loves being in new zealand and is still in school.  sam loves his girlfriend who is in new zealand.

i can’t not ask about touring with lorde.  how was your tour with lorde?

a lot of fun!  it was so cool to connect with younger people!  it was sort of strange because we’re not used to that size of venues. lorde was very nice and an amazing performer!

 

what piece of literature that you’ve recently read has stuck with you?

i’m not a huge reader to be honest.  do audio books count?  i really enjoyed this super geeky book about marketing called the long tail which is about niche markets that have boomed after the internet.  it totally applies to a band like us.  the internet has allowed us to connect with thousands of people around the world.  how many generations do you think it will take until the internet is taken for granted and saying things like ‘the internet has allowed us to do x’ will be irrelevant in the same way that our generation growing up doesn’t really talk about how telephones has radically changed communication?

what albums or artists have you been spinning recently, either as a whole or individually?

i’ve been having trouble sleeping so brian eno’s ambient series has been good to me.  i am excited for courtney barnett’s new album; in a way she’s like the jens lekman of australia!  also mourn’s record!  i love the power in that.

you have quite a few shows lined up this month and next, including a handful of sxsw showcases and some european dates.  are there any concrete plans made for yumi zouma further out in 2015?

good things come to those who wait.

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you can find a complete list of yumi zouma tour dates here.  ep ii is out now via cascine; it’s also available digitally through itunes and spotify.

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interview – adoptahighway

photo courtesy of david szymanski

sometimes incredibly thought-provoking music is simply dropped in your lap.  such was the case with a fault, the dark and disorienting new album from experimental artist adoptahighway that showed up in our inbox early last month.  we recently caught up with adoptahighway’s mild-mannered alter ego, classical musician barry paul clark, via email to talk about a fault, influential composers, and the experimental music sub-culture that has firmly entrenched itself into milwaukee’s expansive music scene.  check out the transcript below.

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there seems to be a lot of disjointed and competing rhythms throughout a fault, especially on tracks like “qualmness” and “defiance,” and those rhythms mirror the disjointed and aggressive undertones of the record really well.  can you talk about your inspirations while writing this record?

the inspiration behind this record had a lot to do with defining and obtaining inspiration – where it is, what it is, how it comes to be, whether or not it can be harbored or contained, and the spectrum of conflicting emotion and self realization that presents itself within that journey.  i know a lot of artists deal with these issues in different ways, so everything i expressed on the subject within the record is very personal.  i’m still unsure if i’ve answered any of my own questions on the matter, but at the very least i made what i consider my most honest material.

i did some internet digging and found out that you spend a considerable amount of time playing classical upright bass in various ensembles.  how does that experience translate to your electronic music, or are do you tend to compartmentalize the two?

yes, i studied and graduated with a degree in classical music performance on upright bass, so outside of adoptahighway, i spend my musical efforts in a handful of regional symphonies, smaller chamber ensembles, jazz and improvised music outfits, and a string quartet i co-founded called the tontine ensemble, which is dedicated to new music performance, mostly by wisconsin composers, as well as our own compositions and improvisations.

i don’t think I necessarily compartmentalize adoptahighway and these other efforts, although i do get a bit of a surprised reaction when i say i’m a classical musician who makes experimental electronic music, or vice versa.  some musicians are totally dedicated to a single craft, which is absolutely amazing, but i use each musical outfit i’m in to express a different part of myself.  it keeps me happy and excited to be able to do that.  i do feel a constant, direct correlation between my classical training and electronic music would be the composition techniques and theory/orchestration studies that I’ve taken part in translate into my work as adoptahighway.

are there any particular composers that have heavily influenced adoptahighway, either throughout the project’s existence or on this album in particular?

i’ve always been inspired by the extreme emotional output of the romantic era to early twentieth century composers.  some of my most fond performance memories, and composers i listen to regularly, are tchaikovsky, mahler, sibelius, and ravel.  i’m also very keen on minimalist composers like glass, reich, cage, john adams and lamonte young; the ability to say very much with sonically very little is very impressive.  i also have a close group of friends through the wednesday sound collective with whom i’ve developed heavily as an electronic musician: my pals lorn, dolor, and 18andcounting.

another project you’re involved in is unrehearsed mke.  can you talk a bit about the experimental music scene in milwaukee?

unrehearsed mke is a project that was started by my longtime friend and frequent collaborator, percussionist devin drobka.  it’s a monthly event here in milwaukee where we, along with the help of composer and saxophonist steve gallam, put together groups of musicians from all fields and disciplines – many of whom have never met or played together before – and ask them to create music on the spot, improvising in a performance setting.  we’ve been doing this for just over two years and it has really brought together and developed a brilliant community of improvisers and artists.  i always equate improvising with speaking.  you’re using the language of your instrument or craft to communicate an idea, just like how you would in any day-to-day conversation.  it’s about speaking clearly, without judgement, and without ego.  there have been some unforgettable and brilliant performances that have taken place this way and part of the magic is that it will never happen again, in light of it being improvised with no prior meeting of the musicians beforehand.

this is only a small facet of experimental music in milwaukee at the moment. another great contributor to the scene for the past several years has been a series called melt, that showcases electronic musicians in a performance setting, curated by my friend the demix.  he’s done a brilliant job advocating and getting support for the actual performance of original electronic music, and not just djs stuck in a booth in the corner of a club somewhere – which is unfortunately what often gets equated with “electronic music” for some people.  melt has been amazing in giving an outlet for many experimental musicians who would otherwise be confined to their studio spaces.

i could talk for hours about more goings on, but i guess the bottom line is that there’s a strong and healthy community of new music happening in milwaukee; you just have to be willing to seek it out.

wisconsin is the rightful beer and cheese capital of the country, and milwaukee especially embodies that stereotype.  what beer and cheese combination do you think would pair best with a fault?

ha!  i haven’t really thought about an edible/drinkable comparison to the record, so i guess i’d go with personal preference of dark beers.  i’ve heard reviews of my music as being dark and heavy, so a porter, stout or black ale seems to make sense.  my girlfriend really enjoys edam cheese, and she enjoys my musical output as well, so there’s that – dark beer and wisconsin edam.

do you have any immediate plans for adoptahighway, in terms of touring, new music, or both?

i don’t have anything necessarily planned outside of a show coming up in milwaukee at the end of march as adoptahighway.  maybe once the snow melts and there’s sun again i will try to string together some shows and hit the road.  i’m looking forward to getting into new music now that a fault has finally been released.  i invested so much time and emotional energy into this record, i felt that i couldn’t move on until it was released and out into the world.  i get very much involved in the concept and expression i’m trying to reach each time i write, so a fault really latched its teeth into me.  it was like exorcising a demon, really, and now that that’s off of me, it’s time to let the next one in.

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the show clark refers to is a stacked bill at cactus club in milwaukee on march 27th, part of the relaunch of melt; if you’re in the area, strongly consider attending.  in the meantime, you can stream and download a fault through the bandcamp link provided below.

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interview – american wolf

american wolfchicago’s american wolf have spent the better part of the past five years meticulously honing a craft that blends stadium-caliber rock music with more introspective, sprawling atmospheric sounds.  the culmination of that work can be found on last fall’s my main sport, an album that quietly found its way onto our best of 2014 list.  we recently caught up with the quintet to talk about the songwriting behind that album, the chicago music scene, and the band’s essential mix of songs.  check out the transcript below.

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my main sport is your third full-length effort as a band, so i’d imagine you all have been at this for quite some time.  can you give a quick american wolf backstory?

the band was initially started as a solo-acoustic act by sal in 2010 in chicago.  he had a collection of songs that he self-recorded that year and called the advantages of being deaf, so i guess you could call that our first “record”.  eventually, he began looking for other members to play these songs with and american wolf was born.  since then, we’ve gone through a couple of line up changes and like you mentioned, released three studio records and a couple of eps.  additionally, we’ve tried touring and playing as much as possible.

there’s a stylistic shift from myriad to my main sport that could be perceived as moving away from smatterings of technical lead guitar work and more towards a cohesive, spacious soundscape dictated by the entire band.  did you have any particular sonic or textural goals while writing the new record, or was the outcome pretty organic?

it’s definitely a mixture of both.  myriad was made with two past members who actually left as soon as the record was done.  that definitely contributed to the way that record was created.  as a band, we took a completely different creative process with my main sport.  we had a chance to really step back and figure out where we wanted to go without feeling rushed or obligated to anything.  we wanted to try stepping into simpler musical arrangements with a more cavernous and atmospheric sound.  we’ve always been really into weird and surreal ideas so we wanted to incorporate that into our music.  but most of all, we wanted to say more with less.

talk a bit about the songwriting process on my main sport.  was the approach any different from previous efforts?

we definitely had more time to write my main sport than our other stuff.  we try to be active listeners and truly digest our influences.  it helped us revise and further develop our ideas in a way that we hadn’t before.  being our third record, we were more knowledgeable about the whole process and how we wanted to execute our ideas.  we tried experimenting with an array of ghastly and ethereal sounds.  musically, we wanted to create musical movements with lesser chords and fewer words.  it was definitely our most collaborative effort to date.

i think i’ve compared you sonically to silversun pickups, partially due to sal’s vocal range, and i’ve read other reports likening you to brand new.  who do you draw inspiration from, either collectively or individually?

we definitely love those bands and have been directly influenced by them.  we are always listening to new music.  i think that as musicians, it’s part of your job to listen and constantly ingest new stuff.  at any given moment we could all be listening to the same thing, or the complete opposite.  we’re really digging flying lotus and mum right now, and we’re really excited for radiohead’s new record as well.  they’ve always been a tremendous collective influence of ours.

where do you see yourselves within the spectrum of the chicago music scene?  do you have a support group of other artists and bands that you like to perform and/or collaborate with, or have you carved out your own niche?

chicago’s scene is always changing; it has a mind of its own.  it’s a city rich with talent and so many bands.  i think that the city has so much talent that people almost take it for granted.  i guess it’s somewhat understandable as any given night you can catch amazing music.  the good thing is that we get to play with so many different acts.  i guess that makes it hard to create a niche, but it helps us network and stay connected with bands.  most importantly, we’ve honestly just tried to establish ourselves as a band that loves what they do.

who have you guys been listening to as of late?  what collection of artists would constitute the essential american wolf mix tape?

track list as of late:

mum – “we have a map of the piano”
polyenso – “falling in rain”
muse – “starlight”
pup – “reservoir”
copeland – “like a lie”
st. vincent – “huey newton”
the decemberists – “make you better”
flying lotus – “coronus, the terminator”
tycho – “awake”
sigur ros – “isjaki”

essential list:

elliott smith – “ballad of big nothing”
owen – “bags of bones”
bob dylan – “don’t think twice, it’s alright”
jimi hendrix – “little wing”
thrice – ”open water”
periphery – “the walk”
led zeppelin – “good times bad times”
radiohead “2+2=5”
the beatles – “don’t let me down”
radiohead “knives out”

what’s on the docket for american wolf in 2015?

we’re going to be releasing a new music video for our song “cave fantasy” in a couple of months.  additionally, we’ll be playing a ton of shows until august or so and then we’ll head into a writing cocoon.  we’ve tried to make a point to travel outside chicago as often as possible, and we’ll be performing at audiofeed festival this year down in champaign, illinois.  we’ve already begun writing some new stuff and exploring where we’d like to head; we’re not sure if we’ll be releasing an ep or another full length.  it’s become increasingly difficult to release records every year as we are becoming more and more meticulous about the stuff we release.  we’ll see.

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those in the midwest would do well to seek out an american wolf show in the coming months.  the band plays a haunting brand of alternative rock that doesn’t quite match anything else coming out of the region, and their increased affinity for dreamy soundscapes makes the follow-up to my main sport that much more enticing.  look for more coverage when the “cave fantasy” video hits later this spring, and click on the links below to hear more of american wolf.

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interview – mannequins on 7th street

armed with just a handful of songs and providing only the scarcest bit of biography, mannequins on 7th street have nevertheless made a lasting impression in the online music community over the past few months.  their tracks are pristine and polished; each subsequent offering has been a subtle refinement of their melancholy sound, which feels right at home with british heavyweights the xx and darker, brooding electronic music.  i caught up with alexandre lambrecht and tim de fontaine, the forces behind the band, to learn more about the origins of mannequins on 7th street, the history of the band’s name, and their plans for the near future.  check out the transcript below.

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aside from the fact that you have a trio of really well-crafted songs, i realize that i don’t know too much about the history of your band. can you give me some background on mannequins on 7th street?

we met each other in the fall of 2012 at the jazz studio in antwerp, belgium.  we lived in the countryside right at the outskirts of brussels.  whilst at school, we quickly realized we had a lot in common as to our musical influences as well as to our ambitions.  we started playing together and found out we also wanted to create the same atmosphere; that there was a whole universe of music we shared.  we wrote “wailing of hesione” the first time we played together and moved to london at the end of the school year.

 

your project’s name comes from a poem by tamar yoseloff of the same title. what drew the two of you to her work, and why is it fitting for your band?

i found her collection of poetry, the city with horns, quite randomly.  i bought it without looking much into it but rather because i liked the title.  when came the time to find a band name, i looked through all my books to find something interesting that would depict the essence of our music.  “mannequins on 7th street” seemed to do it.  the meaning is not to be taken literally, but rather as an ambience.  we are very much inspired by the chaos in cities; the way people race by without giving much thought to what surrounds them; people’s looks lingering in the void, avoiding each other’s eyes; people being alone among an immensity; personalities blurred by consumerism and advertising; to a stereotype of the body and way of life imposed by society; how meaningless and powerless we feel; “all dressed up, and nowhere to go.”  mannequins are a kind of metaphor for this life that we look up to in the western world, but perhaps there isn’t much to look up to after all.

you’ve developed a dark, minimalist pop sound over your first three songs, but one aspect of your music i admire is the melodic interplay you achieve, such as the guitar and keyboard lines on “out of sight.”  who and/or what have been some of your influences while writing music for mannequins on 7th street?

we’ve only known each other since last year.  we’ve had quite a different childhood and therefore grew up with a very different sensibility for songs.  what we have in common is definitely our love for jazz and melancholy.

alex – chet baker, the do, velvet underground, pulp, and sky ferreira
tim – polka, bonobo, four tet, chet faker, shohmo, and russel malone


how has relocating from belgium to london been beneficial for your band?

we came to london to get more opportunities, get into the hype, be aware of all the new stuff coming out since we are both very passionate about the london music scene.  we are also studying music here, taking songwriting (alex) and production (tim) classes, courses that are very hard to find in belgium.

you released “wailing of hesione” and “sofia” within weeks of each other, and then were quiet for a few months before “out of sight” dropped.  should we be expecting more new music from mannequins on 7th street soon, perhaps in the form of an album?

yes, we’re actually working on releasing an ep at the moment, which will probably be ready by april.  we’re finally starting to gig around a bit as well, which we’re quite excited about.  we have a gig in cambridge on friday; come and see us!

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if you’re an avid reader who happens to live across the pond, attending tomorrow night’s show in cambridge might be a pretty good idea.  each song mannequins on 7th street delivers leaves an audience yearning for more, a situation that should be rectified with april’s ep released.  keep your eyes and ears peeled.

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