interview – ricky eat acid

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

2014 is still incredibly young, but ricky eat acid’s three love songs is already presenting its case for album of the year contention.  as last week’s review articulated, the record is expansive, covering vast amounts of musical ground while still retaining a central, emotion-driven thesis.  the creative force behind ricky eat acid, sam ray, was kind enough to shed some light on his project, talking on topics ranging from musical and artistic influences to his relationship with orchid tapes.  check out the transcript below.

ricky eat acid is a project that sounds a bit different than your other bands, teen suicide and julia brown.  what got you interested in electronic music, and what still keeps you intrigued?

electronic & etc. music is definitely where i started at before anything else remotely serious.  it was still a joke at first, i mean, recreating goofy, pointless, almost genre-less songs for my friends’ entertainment.  i was already a fan of a lot of the typical “high school ambient & electronic/idm” stuff that kids who smoke weed sometimes but don’t really party yet listen to – aphex twin, autechre, telefon tel aviv, i totally forget what else – but i couldn’t imagine myself recreating anything close to that.  i don’t know if i even could picture that now.  still, over time it developed into something less joking and more of an actual pursuit.  maybe not a true pursuit, but something fun to do that i also felt invested in.  maybe it’ll become a true pursuit; that would be really cool.

what keeps me intrigued still, i guess, is that there is still so much to learn.  unlike music made with guitars, pianos, drums, etc., strictly where the limitation is the driving factor in innovation, electronic music is constantly expanding.  i mean, at this point neither project for me is truly one or the other; new julia brown songs are taking on more and more of a true production/electronic element and ricky eat acid songs are becoming wildly more organic at the same time and incorporating vocals more and more.  i don’t know if they’ll ever unify one hundred percent but it’s neat.

the title of your new album, three love songs, is a bit of a misnomer.  can you elaborate on the meaning behind that title?

it’s a title taken from a piece of writing that actually is a triptych (though still a misnomer since there are no songs in question).  no one has ever seen the three; or rather, i can think of two people who have and only one of them has probably heard the album.  but still, that’s where it started, i guess.  that existed before the album was even an idea to me and once i started working on it, it felt very fitting.  it’s an album concerned with loss, with degradation both personal and more far-reaching, but at its core it’s concerned heavily with love, and in a way love is concerned heavily with loss.  i find the two eternally entwined; to lose something you have to love it. even if it kills you.  the writing was kind of concerned with that, and the album was concerned with it from the other side: one focusing on love, one on loss, and it came together.

one of my favorite tracks on the album is “in my dreams we’re almost touching,” and it contrasts significantly with the rest of the record.  is there a story behind that particular song?

well i’d been listening to a lot of house music…hahaha.  originally i was listening to all these minimal, piano house producers, like modern deep house: just drums, pianos, some samples maybe, super sparse, super minimal.  six-to-eight-plus minute dance floor cuts.  i wanted to recreate it.  i love writing that stuff; it’s so refreshing for me, i guess, compared to making more “intricate” rhythmic compositions (though i still find the best house very intricate; it just comes more naturally, i guess.)  that song was one of like ten different things i started around just piano and some drums;  i think i was trying to work that vocal clip into another song and realized i should just start over around it.  i then got lost for many days wrapping that song up, and when i was finished it was maximal as hell and nothing like what i had intended to make, but i loved it.  everyone i showed it to loved it.  i went back and forth on keeping it in the album for four to five  months and eventually decided last minute i had to keep it and i’d work it into the narrative and the album flow somehow.  luckily i did, at least to an extent i’m very happy with.  the album, while continuous, is about abrupt tonal shifts and harsh contrasts throughout, and that’s in large part due to structuring it around that particular song, haha.

what were some key influences on three love songs as a whole?

aside from parts of my personal life and the environments i found myself in, it was drawn largely from memory, and from specific memories, and from the idea of my present life becoming memory and how that would shape it.  it’s really neat even a year later looking back at where and when certain songs were created and trying to relive that through them and finding it so different from what it certainly was really like.

other influences though are more obvious – certain musicians and artists always strike me, over and over.  the feeling of playing chrono trigger or final fantasy six as an adult versus a kid; the work of photographer pete halupka, who i loved as a kid and rediscovered during the course of writing the album; expansive pixel art landscapes a la people like this; and of course a ton of different music.  too much to probably even get into.

three love songs holds the distinction as being the first record put out on vinyl by orchid tapes.  can you talk a bit about your history and experiences with the label?

i’d been a huge fan of warren’s musical endeavors and the first time we talked he was still living in canada, i believe, and we talked in one of those pre-turntable.fm musical chat room things.  i was struck by the fact he’d heard any music i’d made before which was so cool, haha.  eventually somehow we got to talking more and when he moved to new york we met finally at cmj in 2012.  by that point he’d helped release some tapes for me (though i don’t think any exclusively through his label) and it was only natural to start working together more officially.  the artists he curates and the aesthetic of his label in general (not to mention everyone involved being such wonderful people) is definitely why i wanted to release this album there, and when he proposed the idea of making it the first vinyl record, i was ecstatic.  i’m really glad everything has gone as well as it has because i can’t think of anyone more deserving than warren or brian, and i’m honored to be part of it in any way.

the internet, and various forms of social media in particular, seem to have played a key role in disseminating your music to people that may have not heard it otherwise.  what are some other advantages to this digital age that you’ve encountered?  have there been any disadvantages?

the way you can email anyone, tweet to anyone, approach anyone – if you do so respectfully and humbly – is truly the end and at once saving grace of the music industry and music as a whole really, at least in my eyes.  with finesse, it seems like anything is possible.  so many people i’ve become friends with over time, bonding over music, meeting at shows or on tours, have eventually passed my music along to other people who we then bonded similarly, and i’ve met or at least had contact with so many people who were heroes to me growing up, who inspired me to start creating music in any capacity.  it’s truly mind blowing.  i couldn’t be more grateful or feel luckier.  it all started from emailing someone whose music i really enjoyed to say ‘thank you’ and we ended up talking.  they asked for my own music, i shared it, they shared it, and it grew very slowly from there.  without that initial interaction, i probably would never have gotten enough confidence to show anyone anything, online or otherwise.  it’s really amazing.

there are definitely downsides – so many people approach things without any sense of humanity – and i think making yourself very open to everyone is dangerous in a way, or at least something to be cautious of.  making yourself very available can be a wonderful thing, and i’ve always wanted to be able to listen to anything sent to me, respond to anyone sending me messages and emails, etc., but there is a line crossed sometimes when it comes to someone’s personal life, that kind of stuff.  it can get weird, i guess.  yolo.

do you have any plans to tour or play shows as ricky eat acid and, if so, how will the music translate into a live setting?

i’m playing a show in a week in new york (feb 2nd, super bowl show!) and i have no clue how the music will translate, but i’m actually very confident about it (much more confident too about later shows, since this one will be breaking the ice kind of).  i’m hoping to tour in 2014 and play a lot of shows in general, but i’m waiting right now to see what happens.  definitely very positive about it all.

the show ray references in his last answer is at the mercury lounge in new york city, playing with foxes in fiction and supporting gem club.  a trifecta of soothing, ambient music, it should be high up on the priority lists of people who live out in that area.  for anyone not yet privy to three love songs, seek it out, and be sure to give the collection of b-sides a listen, too.  ricky eat acid is truly something special.

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interview – dream shake

after two eps with virginia beach pop outfit we are trees, james nee formed dream shake, a guitar-driven, lo-fi oriented project that writes songs about fictional women.  it’s just nee and his friend elliott, but the two still pack a lot of punch on dream shake’s self-titled debut album, out today via frenchkiss records.  i caught up with nee via email to find out more about his new band and came away a conversation riddled with video game references instead.  don’t worry; there’s still some understated quips about his musical views, too.  check out the transcript below.

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we are trees was your primary project before dream shake.  are the two still running concurrently, or has we are trees been put on the back burner?

i think we are trees is pretty over.  i’ve done all i can for it.  but then again, you never know with these sort of things.

dream shake seems a bit more gritty and lo-fi than your last project – in a really good way.  can you talk about some musical influences that have been prominent as of late?

the ambient music in gta v is really inspiring.  it makes you feel like you’re the only person in the world who owns the game.  with that mindset, you feel really happy that the hype is real.  and all your pent up emotions prior to september 17th are released as you meld with los santos.  you almost want to cry.

frenchkiss records is putting out dream shake’s self-titled debut album, and it seems like you’ve had a relationship with them for awhile.  what’s your favorite part about working with the label?

i guess it’s the vindication that a group of people somewhat believe in you (even though it’s not transparent most of the time).

 

let’s talk a bit about the album itself, which consists of nine songs titled after various female characters from television shows.  can you talk about your particular attachment to a couple of those characters, and how you tried to portray them in song?

a character in a story is only a character because they show a distinct emotion that gets singled out by the audience.  so instead of writing a step by step “what happened on this episode, blah-blah-blah,” i write about the emotions that i perceived from each person.  oh, and they’re not all television characters; one is a final fantasy girl.

what would you consider to be the best decade for television and why?

whatever the pre-netflix/hulu/internet years were.  there’s something about making an hour/thirty minute commitment to just forget about the world that is amazing.

what’s your plan for dream shake?  it seems to be mostly a solo project, but do you have any aspirations for the band beyond the studio?

i think of music as a stepping stone to gain a following for my pro-gaming career.  i would like to be in a real band, but one person can not decide that.  so we’ll see.

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if i had to play the “band + band = band” game, i’d say dream shake is a good foray for people who like early cloud nothings and real estate.  it’s also a good foray for people who don’t.  the songs on this album are great little nuggets of pop music, something i always seem to be searching for.  dream shake will be performing later this month at frenchkiss’ cmj showcase; if you’re not in the area for that, pick up their record to tide you over.

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interview – keep shelly in athens

i’ve been watching grecian duo keep shelly in athens like a hawk for quite some time now, eagerly waiting their debut full-length at home and eating it up upon its release.  things got even more exciting when frontwoman sarah p. agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions via email.  she shed some light on the incredibly simple ethos of the band, as well as some insight into the bevy of emotions found across at home and her impression of the recent turmoil in greece.  check out the transcript below.

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keep shelly in athens got a lot of early exposure online, especially on sites over here like gorilla vs. bear.  now that you’ve been working with a record label not attached the the blogosphere, do you notice any changes in how you approach making music and its dissemination?

not at all.  we are always the same two who are making music.  of course, we feel that we have evolved our sound in comparison to the early stuff, and i think that is best for every band – to unfold and develop.  definitely the support of our label it is really important.  we have got a really nice team around us that is helping a lot, that is true, but that did not bring any changes in our songwriting.

the intimacy created on at home is quite remarkable, especially for a duo operating within a genre largely defined by solo acts.  what’s your approach to songwriting?

we make the music that we love.  that is from where it all starts in the first place.  whenever we sit down to write songs, we do not know what we will come up in the end.  the idea it is to express yourself, no matter what.  is not that keep shelly in athens are musicians who studied in colleges about music; we are empirical musicians, driven by our instincts.  that is probably why our music is kind of layered and most of the times sounds a little weird, blending together all those influences we have.

 

as i mentioned in my review of at home, the songs at the beginning of the album decidedly upbeat in comparison to some of the downtempo explorations later on.  was this shift in mood consciously sparked by anything?

the whole album has this roller coaster mood.  you get high, then you know you’ll get down.  no matter what, it happens.  it is the atmosphere we wanted to build; it is that feeling we were exploring; it is all about emotions.  when you are experiencing something intensely, you have already made sure you’ll feel its opposite.  you cannot help it.

have the recent political and social events in greece impacted your work at all?

we might be spotlighted all the time by the media, but spotlights fade out and we are the only ones left around, experiencing the harsh results of this crisis, socially and politically.  with a flimsy society, not a stable foundation, greece at the moment seems to have a quicksand under her feet.  this affects the whole lifestyle, and definitely our work.  both at the creative process and at the “how to make that happen” question.

and remember, it is not just greece.  it is not just greece who appears as the black ship.

“flyway,” for example, is about all this.  the personal strife of every single person, who has to run after it all, to compete, to reach the other ones who are quicker than he is.  he might have lost his faith, he might feel weak, but he still has to fight, or else he will be left behind.  and that is not a good deal, not a good deal at all.

speaking of greece, that’s not a country you hear a lot of music coming out of, at least on an international level.  what’s the inside scoop on the athens music scene?

greek artists seem to be quite inventive lately, they seem to want to be heard outside the country.  this crisis of ours – financial, social, political – has changed our minds and we raised our voices somehow, we were determined that we will stand up tall.  it is true that greek artists are more active than ever, and we team up.  recently, i wrote lyrics and sang for the plastic flowers, a band you should definitely check out.

 

what are you listening to as of late that constitutes more of a guilty pleasure than anything else?

i have no guilty pleasures, to be honest.  i am listening to it all; if i like something, i do not feel ashamed about liking it.  that’s a principle in my life.  it always depends on the mood you are in.

i see that you’ve got a good-sized north american tour slated for october.  what aspect of touring are you looking forward to the most?

we have been missing touring around.  it has been a while since we have last been on the road.  plus, what changed this time is that we have the support of our label, cascine.  rearrangements, new team, new songs, probably new people coming to our shows.  probably, hopefully.  it will be a new experience for everybody.  so i cannot wait for it all; i want to experience and enjoy every single moment.

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you’ll be able to check out keep shelly in athens next month when they hit north america for a string of tour dates; the full list is here.  at home is a fantastic record that you should definitely spin sometime if you haven’t yet gotten the chance, and a band this prolific is bound to churn out something really good again in the near future.  i can’t wait.

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interview – september girls

september girls is an aptly-named quintet of girls from dublin who specialize in lo-fi pop supplemented by a healthy dosage of noise.  though together for less than two years, the band has already put out an impressive series of eps and singles, and have turned heads at pitchfork with a new song called “ships.”  i was able to catch up with lauren, who sings and plays keyboards in september girls, and get the inside scoop on the impetus of the band, the darker sounds they’ve been exploring on their newer material, and their place within the dublin music scene.  check out the transcript below.

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september girls is a relatively new project.  can you give a bit of background information on how the band formed?

caoimhe, jessie, paula and i were all friends in dublin who played music together in various incarnations over the years.  in the autumn of 2011 we were looking to explore some new ideas, and we managed to poach sarah from another band.  when she started drumming with us it all clicked.

your last two eps have really cashed in on a sunny, lo-fi pop sound.  who would you cite as major influences in the band’s songwriting and general approach to music?

we all listen to different music, but our tastes overlap in a love of juxtaposing pop melodies and girl group-style harmonies with healthy doses of noise and distortion to dirty everything up.  we’ve probably been influenced by all of the following at some point: the cure, my bloody valentine, the pixies, the breeders, the jesus and mary chain, phil spector, joy division, the bangles, the beach boys, the beatles.

 

“ships” is a bit of a departure from your previous material.  are the darker tones and crisper production values things we can expect on your upcoming album?

the album incorporates all sides of us, really.  most of it was recorded as close to live as possible to capture the noisy, unpredictable, reverby feeling of the band.  the songs are all a bit like pop tunes that have been swirled around in a hoover for a while.  the overall sound is still our familiar vocal harmonies coated in reverb, blended together with fuzzy pop.  however, the songs on the album are probably a little less sunny disposition than previous releases.

the two bands from dublin that readily come to mind are u2 and my bloody valentine.  can you talk a bit about the current music scene there and how you fit into it?

ireland is small which can limit the opportunities available to bands, so we often find ourselves traveling further afield to reach a larger audience.  however, dublin also has a really vibrant and diverse music scene, and we’ve found there is a good support system of bands and promoters that keep it alive and interesting.

what are you listening to as of late that constitutes more of a guilty pleasure than anything else?

personally, i never feel guilty for listening to any particular music; i just like what i like.  as such, i’m probably a frequent source of embarrassment for those around me, but whatever.  i was actually listening to a lot of the cult last weekend, which may or may not have resulted in me painting part of my bedroom black…ok, maybe i’m a little guilty.

what’s next for september girls?

everything we’ve been doing for the past year has been leading up to the album release in january.  we release the “ships” tape on haus of pins this week, then we have another 7” single in the works for later this autumn.  we’re playing in belfast on the 20th of september for culture night, and touring in the u.k. in october.  beyond that, we just want to keep writing and touring and recording!

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although that sunny disposition that lauren mentioned may have started to disappear from september girls’ sound, this is definitely still a band i’ll keep a close eye on.  their debut album should be a highlight of early 2014 for me, i’ll make do with the songs that are out for now.  be sure to check out the cassette-only release of “ships” b/w “flesh” on haus of pins for cassette store day this coming saturday, or pick it up digitally next monday.  either way, you’re not really losing out.

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interview – western lows

los angeles trio western lows slid into focus with their impressive single “grapevine,” the lead single off of their arresting debut lp, glacial.  i was able to track down frontman jack burnside and ask him a few questions surrounding his new project, and he graciously answered via email.  check out the transcript below.

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western lows seems to be a significant departure from your previous band, mezzanine owls.  was there a tipping point that ultimately led to the inception of this project?

this project came into being slowly.  it started off with me writing songs on my own to no particular end.  after a while, i felt good enough about the songs that i wanted to make a record, and then i felt good enough about the record that i wanted to start a band.  from that point western lows evolved into a three-piece – myself, julien bellin on drums and michael orendy on bass.  i guess in a way the whole thing was almost backwards.   usually you start a band and then make a record; this happened the other way round.

the lyrics across glacial are pretty dense at times – in the best way possible – and i also really enjoy the guitar work.  i know you handle both of those chores; do you feel that you assume one role more than the other in western lows?

they’re equally important to me.  i have a pretty obsessive one-track mind, so i’ll go through periods of getting way into lyrics and song construction and not thinking about guitar very much in anything other than a rudimentary way, and then periods where the opposite is true.  i don’t consciously try to focus more on one than on the other, and in the end it feels like it basically balances out.

the western lows backstory contains some ties to saddle creek records and members of bright eyes.  can you talk a bit more about those connections, along with any other valuable ones, that helped you to push this project along?

that connection starts off with andy lemaster, who was totally instrumental to the entire process.  andy is a good friend of mine, and we had worked together previously on mezzanine owls recordings.  andy was playing bass on a bright eyes tour, towards the end of 2011; they came through los angeles and we started talking about recording.  i sent him some of the stuff i’d been working on, one thing led to another, and a few months later i went to athens, georgia to start work on the record with him at chase park transduction.  clay leverett and jeremy wheatley drummed on the album.  andy was recording an azure ray ep during that time period, and orenda fink ended up singing on a track, which was very cool.

 

“grapevine” is the lead single off of glacial and it’s the song generating the most buzz around western lows right now.  in this internet age, one song is sometimes the only chance an artist gets to draw listeners to the rest of their work.  what made you choose “grapevine”?

i didn’t anticipate leading with “grapevine,” but that’s how things turned out.  i think that particular song is immediate but in a way that’s still subtle and in keeping with the rest of the record.  it’s the first track on the album, so we’re using it as an introduction in that context also.

i hear various musical references across your new record, but i don’t want to be presumptuous.  did you have any key influences while writing the songs on glacial?

more in the recording than in the writing.  from a writing standpoint i like to start with very small things and then expand from them to the point that the original source of inspiration is essentially unrecognizable and irrelevant.  often that source is something non-musical, maybe a line from a book.  in the studio that changes; you find yourself listening to playback and thinking, “it would be cool if the bass was doing kind of a field mice thing” or, “i want the hard-panned guitar to sound like my bloody valentine.”  even that’s pretty compartmentalized and specific though.  in a larger sonic sense we weren’t gunning for any specific artists or bands.

 

have you been playing many live shows in support of the new record?

we have.  there’s more to come on that front.

although this is a relatively new project, i know people are always thinking ahead in some manner or another.  what’s the next step for western lows?

it’s early days still on this release.  our record has been out for a month now.  it’ll be coming out in the uk and europe on september 9th, so we’ve got a lot of promoting left to do, a lot of shows to play.  past that i’m looking forward to working more with julien and michael, writing more songs and making more recordings.  i’m past the post-recording burnout and can feel the next thing starting to take shape.

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glacial is the end result of the careful calculations burnside discussed above.  the album solidifies its place within the dreamy, melancholy world that is shoegaze, but the songs also dip into a smattering of other genres, resulting in a refined musical palate.  jaxart is handling the united states distribution of glacial, and the record is out overseas on september 9th via highline records.  it’s worth a listen.

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interview – little kid

my first exposure to little kid was actually through a local channel; lo-fi heroes wisconsin built covered his 2011 single “should you want to leave” on their album maps ii.  fast-forward about a year and wisconsin built’s drummer, thom, tweets something about little kid and how great their new album is.  i’ll usually bite on thom’s musical suggestions as they generally yield good results, and this one surely didn’t disappoint.  river of blood is a fantastically-crafted album, and multiple listens have only instilled in me just how heavy the subject matter is.  i was fortunate enough to get a response from kenny boothby, the guy who holes up in london, ontario and churns out songs as little kid.  i asked him questions about recording methods, religion, and future releases, and boy did he deliver.  check out the transcript below.

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what initially sparked your interest in recording with four-track machines straight to cassette?  is this something you still stick with, or has your growth as a songwriter required more sophisticated tracking equipment?

it can probably be traced to phil elverum’s albums as the microphones and mount eerie, as well as godspeed you! black emperor’s (and their various side projects’) use of field recordings, which i was really enjoying a few years ago.  i think it was around the winter and spring of 2009, and i had a somewhat strange period in my life where i was digging up all sorts of weird tape recordings and photos from my childhood, buying half-functional tape machines, postcards, books, etc. at second hand stores, and essentially starting to assemble a big project without realizing it.  logic songs grew out of that eventually – that album is pretty strongly tied to the medium i used to record it.

my method of writing songs has changed quite a bit, mostly due to playing the songs live with a band.  i still like to demo the songs while writing them, using the four-track (mostly because it’s the only recording technology i somewhat know how to operate), but playing with a band has let the songs grow a bit more before recording the final versions.  it’s also allowed me to play with some sounds that i really enjoy but would be impossible to capture without enlisting other musicians (i’m a terrible drummer, for instance), and make use of the flexibility digital recording affords.  i really love the way brodie produced the new record – it’s very simple, in comparison to logic songs, and i think it lets the songs speak for themselves a little more than the lo-fi aesthetic would allow.

little kid started out as a solo project but seems to have shifted to more of a collaboration, with members of your live band contributing to your latest record river of blood.  do you think this shift will continue on future releases?

i’m hoping to record an ep or short album on my own some time in the next couple months, just for a change of pace.  right now, it’s just ideas and scraps, but i’m hoping to strike a balance between the 4-track sounds and the benefits of recording digitally.  i’d definitely like to do another album on the scale of river of blood again, though – recording with a band is a lot of fun.  there are plans for a new band with brodie and jessiah (who both played on the latest record) – more of a collaborative project – that will hopefully come to fruition later this year.  i’m really looking forward to that.  i imagine little kid will continue in various forms for the foreseeable future – i have friends who are great musicians that i’d love to continue to enlist for albums in the future, but i also enjoy the freedom of working alone from time to time.

 

many of your songs across your discography reference religion either explicitly or indirectly.  in another interview with you that i read, you seemed to think about religion in a more intellectual, theologically-based manner than in a strictly spiritual one.  do you see this self-awareness as a centerpiece to your lyrical structure?

yeah, it’s pretty difficult for me to write without some form of religious imagery sneaking in somewhere.  it’s the type of songwriting i’ve always connected with the most, and it definitely comes the most natural to me.  i’m planning to try to challenge myself to avoid religious references when writing songs for the aforementioned new band, but i imagine my songs for little kid will always focus on religion in some way.

religion plays a large part in your lyrical work, but who do you count among the most significant musical figures to impact you as an artist?

david bazan is definitely the first person to come to mind.  i grew up listening to a lot of christian rock (the majority of which was pretty terrible in hindsight), and his work with pedro the lion really changed the way i thought about religious lyricism.  he talked about some things on those pedro records that i had never heard discussed so candidly in christian music previously – sex, hypocrisy, doubting god.  i’m still a huge fan of pretty much everything he’s released.

leonard cohen’s also someone i’ve always admired for his mix of religious and secular (or sexual) subject matter, and he’s probably the most consistently flawless lyricist of all time.  at the time of writing the last record, i was listening to a lot of late ‘90s and early 2000s indie rock – modest mouse, built to spill, early death cab for cutie – and some more folk and country-type stuff like neil young, bob dylan, and gillian welch.

what are you listening to as of late that constitutes more of a guilty pleasure than anything else?

i guess the new kanye west album would fall into that category.  the guy is such an asshole, but he makes some pretty interesting records.

to date, river of blood has been released on a limited run of cassettes and cds.  are there any plans of future rounds of releases or a vinyl pressing?

yeah, we are still hammering out the details, but the wheels are in motion to get river of blood out on vinyl, hopefully sometime in the fall.  there’ll be an official announcement once we have more info.

 

with the addition of musicians and the larger sound on river of blood, little kid is starting to seem less like a recording project and more like a full band.  do you have any plans of touring as a live act?

unfortunately, a band tour is really unlikely; we all have a lot of different commitments.  i have been talking to a friend about a potential solo tour in the fall – just a few cities in canada and the states.  i’m hoping that will work out; it would be my first tour, so i’m definitely excited about the possibility.

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full band or not, little kid would be an act i would love to see on tour.  eau claire might be a bit of a hike from ontario, but i can always hope.  in the meantime, make sure to listen to river of blood in its entirety if you enjoyed the snippets above, and check out the rest of little kid’s discography, which is stashed away in the bandcamp link below.  the possibility of a vinyl pressing is also something i’m excited about; i’ll be sure to pass along the details on that when they surface.

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interview – safari al

awhile back i did a brief spot on mantras, a project that blends the hip-hop stylings of safari al with the indie rock tendencies of ghost of james.  safari al was kind enough to answer some questions about the group’s aesthetic, their new ep easy, hogarth, and hypothetical future plans.  check out the transcript below.

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although mantras is an extremely organic-sounding project, i understand that paul and jp essentially functioned as your producers, sending you finished instrumentals to work with.  how did you approach writing lyrics for songs that feature different timbres and tempos than perhaps you are used to?

ghost of james’ music is a type of music that i listen to frequently and am comfortable with, so i wouldn’t say there was much musically that i wasn’t already familiar with outside the context of rap.  though, part of the project’s purpose is to path-cut along one of rap’s fringe ley lines.  ultimately, this is one of the better results of folk, rock, and rap all sitting at the same table.

i approached writing for this project more poetically, but that’s also the trend my writing has been following along recently.  one thing this project has that my others do not is manpower.  with that in mind, i did want to include some cuts where paul and i could belt our buns off.

mantras combines members of the dilla gents and ghost of james.  how much of each group’s aesthetic did you shed for this new project, and what elements did you retain?

i do not believe there is a strong dilla gents presence on this project, and that is fine and dandy because i did not intend for that to be an identifiable influence on easy, hogarth.  jp and myself are the dilla gents transplants, but over the last few years, gents’ activity has been waning and influence less perceptible.

this project is the marriage of safari al and ghost of james, each taking one another in sickness and in health.  heh heh.  that is to say, i got all of ghost of james and they got all of me.  i don’t think there was much sacrifice on behalf of either party in order to compromise towards a medium.

the song “villains” features milo, another hip-hop artist based out of eastern wisconsin who seems to have a similar aesthetic – both in terms of flow and use of occasional non-sequiturs – to the one you’ve developed.  can you speak to your prior collaborations and general thoughts on the dude?

“villian” is actually an intentional misspelling (see: almost, maine).

rory and i are currently roommates in milwaukee, wi.  the other day i put our bathroom rugs in a washing machine because our friend braden refused to enter due to the piss odor that sort of permeates the room.  i’m not trying to say that rory pees on bathroom rugs – the odor predates our stint as roommates – but, we are both comfortable being dirty, hairy boys.  rory is one of my best friends and the similarity in aesthetic that you have observed exists beyond our written content and delivery.

 

easy, hogarth is relatively short; just six tracks that clock in around twenty minutes.  is this a one-off project between friends, or will mantras continue to be developed down the line?

honestly, this hasn’t really been addressed yet.  the initial impetus to create this project felt a little one-shot in nature: you’re on winter break, i’m on winter break, you make incredible music that i’d very much like to yell over, etc.  but, for better (i think), the process of finalizing our work got drawn out substantially, which meant i got to continue to interact closely with paul and jp.  in short, i am more than willing to further develop mantras, but ideally in a more synergistic setting.   i’d like to play guitar on some songs.

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the marriage of indie rock and hip-hop goes over very, very well on mantras’ easy, hogarth; safari al wasn’t simply tooting his own musical horn.  personally, i’d love to see the trio expand the project to its fullest potential, but i’m perfectly content with the content they have to offer at the moment.  safari al will be joining forces with milo and riley lake for a tour of the eastern half of the u.s. next month.  if you like any tiny bit of what you hear, go check out a show.

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interview – riley lake

interviews have been a glaring feature missing from this website, and i’ve been trying to remedy this problem for some time.  i’m really happy that the artist to claim first dibs on this segment is someone that i’ve known for quite a few years.  riley lake, a twenty-one year old producer from claremont, california by way of rural wisconsin, is the elusive man behind the beats on milo’s recent mixtape things that happen at day, along with a slew of other smaller projects.  we were able to reconnect via email this past week, and the ensuing dialogue is the result.

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i had the pleasure of knowing you quite well throughout middle school and high school, and i remember during one of the last conversations we had before leaving for college, you mentioned you had gotten some new software that you were pretty excited about.  what initially sparked your interest in producing and making electronic music?

the most simplistic answer is that, senior year of high school, i found out our family desktop came with a copy of logic.  i made a song for a science project in ninth grade about saguaro cacti, which i guess is my first production effort.  in hindsight, it was kinda cool; i recorded some guitar, bass, and vocals and added a super wack bell sound in some bummy 20 dollar d.a.w. from best buy.  finished it off with some heartfelt couplets about the need to preserve the saguaro.

as someone who spent a lot of his youth playing other people’s songs, learning how to use a computer as an instrument was incredibly liberating, comparable only really to learning to play the guitar.  i could create things that i might actually want to listen to.  i think that has motivated my entire evolution as a musician and provided the impetus for my technical development.  the result to putting effort into music-making shifted from giving a good performance of a piece i probably didn’t even like that much to having this precious little digital copy of what i thought was the most beautiful way of putting sounds together at the time of creation.  rather than having to practice when i wished i could’ve been doing some other shit, i felt driven to sit down at my computer and make some corny beat.  that was cool.

all of the “beats” that I heard growing up were from the rap songs that managed to worm their way into my ears in the middle of the woods in wisconsin.  since learning computer music for me involved a lot of mimicry, i started out making pieces of music that weren’t meant to be instrumentals; i wanted someone to rap on them.  i didn’t know any rappers for a long time, so that kinda stifled that intention.  but then i met milo, we made a rap record together, and all of a sudden all i want to do is make rap beats again.

you relocated from rural wisconsin to a slightly more urban setting in california.  how did the change in scenery impact the music you were making?

it was everything. more important than moving from a rural area to an urban area, I moved from a place where i felt somewhat isolated to a place where i was flooded with like-minded individuals and the crazy set of interactions that happen when this happens.  i would say that a large bulk of the things that happened that feel really meaningful to me have happened over the past three years.  some things are certainly a result of my proximity to los angeles, like going to low end theory, but most formative to me are the experiences that i had as a result of being thrown into this crazy social environment and learning to navigate it.  i think those played a big role in my understanding of making music for other people as opposed to just myself.  it made me think of what i (and my contemporaries) do as art, a realization that has focused my creative process enough to create things that people might actually want to listen to.

also, moving out of the country opened up the world to me.  things that i once knew only through the internet were all of a sudden very real and tangible.  i think it broadened my scope in a huge way, and i hope i continue increasing my understanding of the nature of this strange life we lead together as i go through my time here. likewise with my understanding of music.

people familiar with your work know you as the producer behind milo’s mixtape things that happen at day.  how did that relationship begin?

i didn’t even meet the dude in person until december 31st, 2012.  he sent me an email after reading a review of open mike eagle’s latest record that I wrote and listening through my soundcloud in like, june of 2012.  i got home for the month of august and made him two beats, which ended up becoming “legends of the hidden temple” and “sweet chin music”.  After the “sweet chin” beat, he proposed things that happen at day, which was a counterpart to the already mostly-finished things that happen at night.  i had never approached a project anywhere near as long and conceptually involved as things that happen at day, so figuring out what the hell those beats were going to sound like and then actually making them was a really seminal process for me.  i made the beats during august, and then spent half the fall semester mixing the record.  i had no fucking clue how to mix a rap album, but through an epic process of trial and error, i managed to make an album that, after mastering, was actually listenable production.  milo is maybe the best dude ever to make rap music with, because you send him a beat and like, an hour later he emails you back with some crispy clean vocal stems.  that was how we bridged the distance gap (i was in california and he was in green bay as i was mixing the record), was by sending beats and stems back and forth through mediafire and facebook, etcetera. then i sent him like ten different drafts of each song on the album until i got it right.

since then, i’ve spent some time with milo in real life, and that’s been the coolest thing.  i respect and admire him a tremendous amount.  i’m a little baffled why a rapper as good as him likes my silly little beats, but i think we have a lot of chemistry together.  i am doing everything in my power to support his artistic intentions, which are monumental and important for people to place their ears upon.  i would love to be the 40 to his drake, so to speak.  we’re gonna have a lot of time in august to pick each other’s brains, which will be the coolest thing.

 

rumors swirl that you’re working with milo on his upcoming album cavalcade.  can you say much about that right now?

yeah it’s a thing, it’s done, and i really want people to hear it.  the lead single should be coming out very soon.  like, hopefully next week.

it’s a rap mixtape.  people on the internet occasionally like to say stupid things like, “oh this dude can’t flow” or “blah blah blah this is spoken word.”  the thing about milo is, if he wanted to put up the same facade as everyone else, he could certainly make a blisteringly effective “traditionalist” rap album.  instead, he chooses to unfold his narrative with this utterly unique style of lyricism and delivery that he believes is the best way to convey whatever meaning he chooses to code into a rap song.  it “unpacks” in a really really interesting way, which lets you listen over and over without getting bored (one of the qualities of a song that i treasure).  i wanted to make a mixtape that let him flex his more “rapperish” abilities in songs that had the same depth has his previous material.

it is also a record for his grandfather.  his grandfather’s favorite band is america, so at milo’s request, every song samples an america song.  from a production standpoint, that stipulation ended up defining the work that i did.  we agreed early on that it was necessary to distance ourselves as far as possible from “twang rap”.  as a way of avoiding that, i spent a lot of time taking the samples and recasting them to create a new musical object that was imbued with characteristics of the source material but felt at home in an entirely new context, that of the cavalcade song.  to do this, i created each song using one america sample and one other recognizable sample.  by using a diverse selection of other samples (everything from dvorak’s “american quartet” to james blake’s “retrograde” to heard ’em say) and a bevy of modulation effects to the samples, i was able – hopefully – to create a set of beats with as much cohesion and stylistic variety as those qualities will allow in the presence of each other.

having this menage of hip-hop production as a musical canon that influenced me, my rap beats have become this pastiche of pretty much every hip-hop style that has found some time in the limelight over the past two decade, and that is super evident in the productions on cavalcade.  it feels appropriate that our take on rap music is this amorphous, as to some extent, both milo and i approach rap from an outsider’s perspective.  it’s loud, roughly calculated, and flawed, but hopefully, a beautiful narrative that pulls on the listener’s empathy strings and makes you pause and think.

i also happen to know that you’re a classically trained violinist and cellist, and you know your way around quite a few other instruments.  do you find having a structured background in music particularly advantageous when producing tracks for milo or working on your own stuff?

i wish i could attribute any skill I may have at beat-making to some natural wellspring of talent, but that’s not the case. from the age of five and on, my mom sacrificed soooooo much of her time making me practice, and my teachers taught me how to think about music in a really interesting way.  at this point, i feel like my productions are a coagulation of all of the things i’ve learned about music over my life.  some of these things have been independent artistic discoveries, but a lot of them are things i’ve learned from other musicians.

speaking on the concept of structure, i think i was lucky to get out of the music world and not go to conservatory.  i have a pretty rudimentary knowledge of “music theory,” but like, i know what music theory is, and so i feel like i have created my own sort of music theory that is part traditional stuff, part weird cage-ian beliefs about sounds and context and looser definitions of music, and part mix engineering.

i love shlohmo; i think he makes beautiful music with a computer that has tremendous amounts of emotional power for lots of people.  if i am not mistaken, he had little to no musical background before he started making beats, but his past with visual art translates extraordinarily well into musical production.  i think there is a sort of sculptural aspect to making music with a laptop that has more in common with work in the visual arts than traditional music performance, what i was taught.

i guess what i’m getting at is that my musical background helped make my learning curves with music less steep, but it took time for me to develop and understanding of the potential of my macbook and other cool little electronic instruments.  it’s more than playing stuff in tune at the right time, which i spent much of my life trying to do.  the computer does that for you.  what i needed to learn was how little details of arrangement and mix engineering contribute to authorial style, vibes, these more ephemeral, hard to define concepts that really dictate people’s enjoyment of music.  these are more both artistic and technical concerns that i didn’t get resolved during my classical music education.

your twitter handle is an homage to philip glass, and you’ve name-dropped steve reich a few times.  what draws you to minimalist composers like the aforementioned?

part of it is a joke; the day things that happen at day came out, milo and i were talking about ol’ philly g and he told me to change my name to that.  it seems like a trope: that the kid who makes hyper-intellectual rap songs with a classical background would sit around listening to his collection of philip glass records (i don’t do that fyi).  it’s mostly just rapperish braggadocio, saying that i’m bringing this carefully studied, super conceptual style to the rap game.  it also kinda points out how little i have to do with the “rap game.”  basically, don’t take it too seriously.

i do really respect that type of composer.  i think a piece like “4’33”” is genius shit.  what a move as a composer, to mind-fuck an audience like that, make them listen to an audience listen as a piece of music.  i like those things that break down artistic conventions, make you realize that the standards by which you perceive music are absolutely constructed.  i’m really drawn to twentieth-century art because a lot of it was spent grappling with what art itself is rather than, like, painting some religious scene really really well.  i foresee a movement like that spearheaded by musicians, because, let’s face it, every kid with ableton is making supercomputer music that has the potential to break in a radically innovative way from what we now perceive as music.  synthesized music is in effect an abstraction, a representation of pleasing tonalities that arise from the totality of the western canon.  as people explore new frontiers musically, the results of this will become pleasing and i think music will become a pretty foreign entity within a few decades.  i think you can already see it a little bit in the rise of both textured and hyper-compressed (speaking of compression in the mix engineering sense) music.  or maybe i smoke too many spliffs and think too much.

i changed my twitter handle to “cavalcade producer” because, as a rap producer, i’m really into hiding behind the narrative expressed in the rap songs that i produce.  i’m almost happier if people think milo made his own beats. that’s kinda on some warhol shit.

 

what are you listening to as of late that constitutes more of a guilty pleasure than anything else?

well, i definitely have the whole power 106 (la’s mainstream radio rap station) memorized because i don’t have a aux cord in my car and i’m too far from long beach to get good reception on 93.5 kday (the classy old school hip-hop station.)  although i respect the musicality and understanding of pop music that goes into making those songs, it’s hard to deny that most of contemporary radio rap is completely vapid and has like less than zero value to society.  i still bump mikewillmadeit shit though.  also, really really hood shit.  i feel guilty listening to that because in reality i’m so unfamiliar with the existence that is being described that it feels touristic in an uncomfortable way, but at least i know that.

are there any upcoming projects you’re working on that people should know about?

umm, sort of.  right now i’m mostly mixing down other people’s stuff because it feels good to actualize someone else’s project and i learn a lot from, like, making someone else’s music sound good.  i’m gonna mix the hellfyre club mixtape which should drop by the end of the summer.  i’ve made a slew of beats that may or may not end up as rap songs.  i made a beat that is going to be on busdriver’s next album, which is sweet.

i’m getting a live set ready for a tour that i can’t talk that much about, which is really exciting.  i saw mount kimbie the other night and that was so inspirational because they do a tremendous job of translating their studio work into a live setting, which is really hard.  they seem like a band when they play; their performance has this element of visual musicianship and improvisation that i feel is lacking in a lot of really ableton-heavy live sets.  i’ve done a lot of performance in ensembles and doing solo stuff with stringed instruments, so it feels weird that i can’t “perform” my compositions in the same way.  i’m trying to overcome that barrier, but it takes some work since, frankly, there are so many elements in the beats that i make that it takes some considerable stripping down and re-arranging to get everything under my control.  at this point i’ve accumulated enough gear that, using an ipad as a control surface, i should be able to play my beats entirely with live-triggered samples, drum machine sequences, and live synth work, which will be a lot of fun.

oh, and my dad is an old folk singer, and i have a couple really cool recordings that he did way back in the day that have never been mixed or mastered.  i’m going to pick like four songs, do a faithful remastering of them, and then an edit of each one taking a bunch of creative liberties.  a sort of, long ep i guess.  finally, i’ve been working on a more vocal-heavy ep called architectures 1-3, which i may never finish.  i’ve got “architecture 1” done though.  it took me nine months to make.  the vocals are a combination of my singing and resampling of milo acapellas, taking words and phrases and then re-arranging and manipulating them to sound like a crazy, otherworldly new vocal element that still has some lyrical substance.

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all the talk on cavalcade is real; the album is done and almost ready to go, and word on the street is that a single will drop sometime next week.  we’ll have that covered for you when it happens.  in the meantime, check the links below for all things riley lake.

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