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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fog lake – “side effects”

– featured image courtesy of david aaron mitchell –

aaron powell’s work as fog lake has been perennially sparse yet affecting, and occasionally downright haunting.  ambient collages of static and drones merged with bedroom pop sketches on 2014’s masterful virgo indigo, and powell duplicated that feat on last year’s follow-up, victoria park.

powell’s pop chops have developed into a formidable tool over the past three years; on “side effects,” the second single from his forthcoming album, dragonchaser, powell effortlessly culls an unforgettable melody from a skeletal structure, weaving in and out of the track’s hypnotic, ticking pulse with a reedy falsetto in tow.

dragonchaser is out february 10th via fog lake’s longtime home, orchid tapes.  press play on “side effects” below.

yohuna – patientness

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

“album of the fortnight” is a new bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  first up: yohuna.

Up until this month, johanne swanson’s catalogue as yohuna spanned five years, but was rather sparse.  as a consumer this was, at times, frustrating: a gifted songwriter with sporadic output, often elusive or mum about forthcoming material.  from an artistic standpoint, however, this was refreshing, revelatory, admirable: a gifted songwriter working methodically, only offering up new songs with a distinct purpose attached, never out of necessity; never for personal gratification; never out of impulsive boredom.

patientness, out now via orchid tapes, is swanson’s first full-length effort, though an album’s worth of yohuna material doesn’t feel like a departure from the ethos that defined her earlier work.  three of the album’s nine tracks have existed in the public sphere, in some form or another, for quite some time; the remaining two-thirds of patientness is sequenced around this familiarity, transforming those songs into comforting touchstones in the midst of new, uncharted territory.

the arrival of “creep date” is this exercise fully-realized.  new offering “world series” is the song’s ancillary, the advent of buzzsaw guitars foreshadowing emotive distortion that rings out in its successor, but it’s the searing – and shattering – realism of each song’s lyrics that tie the two together.  mere seconds after uttering the clincher “you’re my biggest fan / but the seats are cheap,” swanson pivots to “not confused / still feel used,” a clear-eyed couplet that’s as devastating as it is resolute.  yohuna’s sonic aesthetic may be warm and pillowy at times, but it’s often only a thinly-veiled diversion away from sentiments that bely – and, more importantly, challenge perceptions of – its inviting exterior.

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earlier this week, the fader ran an absolutely riveting interview with swanson, a must-read for anyone already invested in this column.  among other topics, swanson discusses the binary tendencies of genre categorization, and how her music moves fluidly through the two most often assigned to her work: electronic and indie.  this acute awareness of categorical ambiguity reverberates throughout patientness, never meandering, always challenging what music purported to be feminine should evoke and sound like.

the title track on patientness hits last and asks the prevailing question head-on: “what is patientness?”  who knows?  it’s probably a personal mantra of sorts; the neologism is definitely indicative of swanson’s calculated approach to both making and releasing music, and it certainly feels relevant in the context of this album’s creation.  while yohuna has primarily been a solo outlet with occasional input in the past, patientness is decidedly more collaborative: adelyn strei (adelyn rose), felix walworth (told slant), emily sprague (florist), and warren hildebrand (foxes in fiction) all contribute, and swanson trekked up from brooklyn to montreal to record with owen pallett, who also co-produced the album.

“patientness” may evade concrete definition or attainability, but it will forever be difficult to disassociate yohuna from this concept.  as a body of work, patientness finds comfort in non-conformity; in imperfections; in the uncomfortable.  it’s a rare gift, a present to be opened with care and examined thoroughly, contemplatively.  patiently.

foxes in fiction – “extinguisher”

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

nestled among an unforgettable run of pivotal albums released in 2014 by orchid tapes was boring ecstasy, the first compilation offered up by the independent record label.  given the context of its arrival, boring ecstasy felt like a deserved mid-season victory lap; tracks were supplements to each artist’s repertoire, not throwaways, the sum of their parts meticulously curated to highlight key facets of the label’s roster without merely tracing its lineage chronologically.  that early mainstays could be placed adjacent to relative newcomers and not disrupt cohesion was telling, a nod to label co-founder warren hildebrand’s clear-eyed, focused vision for the consistent aesthetic of orchid tapes.

on august 12th, the label will release its sophomore compilation, radiating light: orchid tapes & friends.  as the extended title suggests, radiating light enlists a handful of auxiliary artists for contributions, and the overall tone of the track list feels decisively more collaborative: fog lake and home alone work in tandem for the penultimate cut, while emily reo and yohuna team up for “teach you.”

of course, hildebrand’s notable work extends well beyond running a record label; since 2009, he has released music of his own as foxes in fiction, his collective output a meandering collage of contemplative ambient soundscapes and hushed indie pop.  hildebrand leans towards the latter on “extinguisher,” the second offering culled from radiating light.  the track, built on celestial chord progressions and hildebrand’s processed voice, eventually swells to cinematic heights, staging a cathartic release of incalculable proportions.  take a listen to “extinguisher” below.

yohuna – “apart”

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

those who have been reading the dimestore for awhile will recognize why the arrival of this song is so special.  until now, johanne swanson’s output as yohuna has been about as sparse in quantity as it’s been astounding in quality, with an intimate standalone track surfacing every year or so since her revery ep in 2011.  that pacing changed yesterday as yohuna announced her debut full-length, patientness, a nine-song effort appropriately due out september 9th via the inimitable orchid tapes.

though yohuna began as a solo venture in new mexico and developed further in eau claire, boston, berlin, and new york, patientness seems poised to dabble more in the collaborative; addie strei (adelyn rose), felix walworth (told slant, bellows, eskimeaux), emily sprague (florist), warren hildebrand (foxes in fiction), and owen pallett are all credited with helping to realize swanson’s arrangements.  our first taste is “apart,” the re-working of a demo that first appeared on a le sigh compilation in late 2013.  walworth’s sauntering drums power the track, while woozy guitar arpeggios wrap themselves around swanson’s airy vocals to create a cyclical, haunting soundscape that’s best left on repeat for quite awhile.  take a listen below.

fog lake – “rattlesnake”

Fog Lake rattlesnake 1.jpg
photo courtesy of the artist

aaron powell has provided a steady output of sparse, affecting bedroom pop over the past couple of years as fog lake, yielding 2014’s virgo indigo and last year’s victoria park.  the st. john’s-based artist will release an as-yet untitled full-length this fall, again via orchid tapes; today, powell shared “rattlesnake,” a new single from the project featuring angular melodies spliced into a warm, more inviting backdrop that is eventually swallowed up by the crinkling sounds of an aging tape machine.  take a listen below.

 

listen to a new song from fog lake

fog lake
photo courtesy of the artist

aaron powell’s voice is often described as reedy, a quality born out of the necessity to be heard above his thick, droning instrumentals.  on “bury my dead horses,” his latest single as fog lake, powell instead subdues the extremities of his vocal range, nestling comfortably inside angular electric guitar stabs and a lazy drum beat.  “bury my dead horses” is pulled from victoria park, fog lake’s second full-length album for orchid tapes, due out next tuesday.  take a listen below.

mixtape sunday – orchid tapes

 

consider this the precursor to our year-end best-of lists that will start to show up towards the middle of december.  orchid tapes was absolutely on point for the entirety of 2014, releasing ten fantastic albums and one compilation all while successfully transitioning into vinyl distribution.  to honor this site’s favorite record label of the year, we’ve curated a compilation of our own: one that features our favorite track from each of the ten original releases in chronological order.  click the play button above to get started, and then head over to the orchid tapes archives to catch up on any albums you may have missed.

listen to a new song from foxes in fiction

warren hildebrand spent the better part of the past three years working on the material that would become ontario gothic, so it stands to reason that he would have a few other sketches of foxes in fiction songs that didn’t quite fit the album.  enter “october (for j),” a sprawling six-minute amalgamation of samples that hildebrand completed and premiered tuesday night on newtown radio.  the song is aesthetically more in line with the “hospital district”/”static cult” single released back in 2011, and comes days after hildebrand hinted at returning to a more experimental approach to his music as foxes in fiction.  regardless of future trajectory, “october (for j)” is a wonderful addition to hildebrand’s emotive canon.  take a listen below.

foxes in fiction – ontario gothic

as the person responsible for the lion’s share of day-to-day operations at orchid tapes, one could reasonably assume that warren hildebrand has no time left to devote towards any other project.  the brooklyn boutique has skyrocketed in terms of exposure and influence over this past year, releasing incredibly important albums by ricky eat acid, alex g, and others, all while seamlessly transitioning into the vinyl distribution game.  hildebrand, along with his partner brian vu, handles every aspect of the orchid tapes business, from dubbing tapes to packaging orders to maintaining an extensive social media presence.  despite all of these duties, hildebrand still managed to write, record, and mix ontario gothic, his second full-length effort as foxes in fiction.  it’s an incredibly poignant record, and serves as the long-missing piece to orchid tapes’ puzzle.

hildebrand’s debut, swung from the branches, was an incredibly vast album predicated on the emotions and aftermath of losing his younger brother, and contained nineteen songs of various lengths showcasing his propensity for both drone and more traditional pop structures.  in contrast, ontario gothic feels honed, polished down to a concise seven tracks and a more uniform aesthetic, one that may not embody the everlasting essence of foxes in fiction so much as it helps to represent the specific blend of healing pop hildebrand is pursuing this time around.

simple melodies adorn “march 2011,” a warbly odyssey of an album opener that compounds on countermelodies before unraveling into the first of owen pallett’s many string arrangements throughout ontario gothic.  that warble proves to be a recurring theme throughout the album in some capacity, be it in the light tremolo of hildebrand’s guitar or in the slow pan of the vocals on “glow (v079),” conveying the fragility that often accompanies a state of loss.  the highlights of ontario gothic are nestled snugly in the middle of the album, with both “shadow’s song” and “ontario gothic” employing lilting choral lines that lift hildebrand’s music from a state of uncertainty into an almost heavenly, more fleetingly self-assured realm.

despite brief moments of clarity, it’s evident that hildebrand continues to struggle with demons throughout ontario gothic.  the album itself is dedicated to a friend that died an untimely death, and it’s clear that his own brother’s passing still has a profound impact on hildebrand’s musical trajectory.  but whereas swung from the branches was an effort primarily created in solitude, ontario gothic wholeheartedly embraces outside collaboration: pallett’s strings are sprinkled throughout all but one of the album’s tracks, and three of hildebrand’s friends and label mates lend their voices to closing number “altars.”  this symbolic show of support through music is indicative of everything orchid tapes stands for, and it’s accomplished to a level of beauty and tranquility that few other artists can achieve.  lose yourself in this little album.

7.8/10