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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two castles – “survive”

– featured image courtesy of serena wagner –

eric charles christenson, our favorite eau claire renaissance man, has blossomed into a formidable producer over the last twelve months.  those are his fingerprints on the latest sniffle party single, and more collaborative examples can be uncovered by patiently following trails of breadcrumbs on twitter.

still a poignant singer-songwriter in his own right, christenson released a new solo track under his two castles moniker last friday, in tandem with “waving.”  the aesthetic of each song is complementary to the other’s, though “survive” is decidedly more glitchy in presentation, owing largely to a skittering arpeggiated motif that’s pitted against a rigid bass line.

the lyrical direction of “survive” teeters into maudlin territory, cycling between a comparatively substantive hook and the simple, gorgeous word-painting of “lavender blue kisses.”  it’s the slightest drop of sadness, a hint of hesitance that feels particularly appropriate at the end of a year like this.  take a listen to “survive” below.

sniffle party – “waving”

– featured image courtesy of chris bartlett –

if you still haven’t indulged in sniffle party’s debut ep, peach dream, yet, carve out fifteen minutes to correct this oversight.  the four songs serve as a primer to the breadth of serena wagner’s nascent songwriting capacity, her spacious contralto meshing seamlessly with two castles’ minimalist, purposeful production.

“waving,” wagner’s first new song in nearly eight months, strikes a familiar mood, her voice echoing distantly in a cavern of pristine synth motifs and warm, enveloping bass tones.  attendees of live sniffle party performances over the past year should recognize “waving,” and can especially revel in the full, saturated harmonies that permeate the song’s hook.  take a listen below.

websterx – “blue streak”

– featured image courtesy of damien blue –

websterx is a slightly enigmatic figure who holds court in milwaukee, a sometimes-overlooked yet increasingly vital hub for rap music in the midwest.  he’s also been rather quiet for the past year; his last single, “kinfolk,” an invigorating collaboration with fellow midwesterner allan kingdom, arrived in october of 2015 and was followed the next month by his kidx ep, but there’s been radio silence – in terms of new music – ever since.

“blue streak” endeavors to do a couple of things.  one is to saturate a fanbase parched of thirst after eleven months without another websterx track; the other is to usher in the next chapter of his career.  after culling a following based off of the strength of singles and vivid videos alone, websterx has signed a distribution contract with chicago-based closed sessions as he looks towards releasing his first full-length album.

websterx links with the producer four giants on “blue streak” for an end result that’s as rigid and militant as can be spacious and pensive, an amalgam of aesthetics that simultaneously seems to reject any sense of genre confines.  the title and release date of his debut album are pending; for now, float away with websterx on his long-overdue – and much-welcomed – new single.

 

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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listen to a new song from two castles

dreamroom_5
photo courtesy of serena wagner

eric charles christenson is slowly carving out a niche for himself, resorbing the lo-fi tendencies of his early work as wisconsin built and sowing their seeds in the glitchy electronica of two castles.  following a pair of strong summer singles – “liquor” and “bonfire” – christenson returned today with “two tuff,” a chilly new cut that arpeggiates freely over reverb-obscured vocals.  as a bonus, fellow lowkey radical member north house jumped on a remix of the track, which was released today as well.  take a listen to “two tuff” below.

listen to a new song from milo

milo:scallops hotel
photo courtesy of giovanni solis

between the title of his forthcoming album and the stark nature of its artwork, it’s apparent that rory ferreira is hyper-aware of mortality in present-day america.  but on “zen scientist,” the first single culled from so the flies don’t come, he seems confident and pragmatic in dealing with the situation.  recording again as milo, ferreira raps plainly that “the soul is fly / i’m in my new zone / i have decided my point of view” with help from myka 9 over kenny segal’s downtrodden production; there are no frills, non-sequiturs are trimmed to a minimum, and milo’s analogies refer less to his pop-culture prowess and instead hone in on key figures he views as progenitors to his current mentality.  so the flies don’t come arrives september 25th via ruby yacht.  let your soul fly.

listen to a new song from sayth

sayth
photo courtesy of spencer wells

sayth and north house began teasing their collaborative project, body pillow, in the early months of summer with “pink pistols,” a staple in sayth’s live repertoire elevated by meticulous production from north house.  the duo subsequently went silent for the month of july, building anticipation before releasing a steady stream of material this month.  “under water • under ice” is the final piece of body pillow to surface, a brooding outing devoid of any guest spots which allows sayth to jockey between a bleak, realistic outlook on life (see also: the melancholy delivery of the line “wave hi to the cancer”) and the incendiary hook “this is for the kids that know that words matter / break a broken window theory / watch that shit shatter,” a sentiment that feels like a suitable mantra for sayth’s persona.  most notably, “under water • under ice” largely wanders away from non-sequitur crutches at the behest of north house’s steady arpeggios and shadowy synth pads, the production’s uniformity allowing sayth the space to create a serious, cohesive narrative to complement the one doled out on “pink pistols.”

body pillow is available to stream and download here.  take a listen to “under water • under ice” below.

scallops hotel – plain speaking

out may 5th via ruby yacht/the order label
out may 5th via ruby yacht/the order label

editor’s note: every review of an album or ep has come standard with a numerical ranking assigned at the end of the article since the inception of dimestore saints.  for awhile, this seemed to be a necessity, a way to keep up with other blogs and to perhaps speak a sort of shorthand code to those wishing to find the most thought-provoking new albums in the shortest amount of time.  as this site has progressed i’ve become increasingly conflicted about assigning art an arbitrary value, which is why i’m stopping, effective immediately.  from this moment forward, one can assume that any album or ep explored in length on dimestore saints carries some amount of merit and helps to shape the ever-changing musical landscape around us.  one can also assume that any album or ep assigned the “best new music” category is not inherently superior to all other music released that week, but rather has a profound impact on the author and/or directly relates to noted cultural shifts and movements within the music community, both of which are key components when curating year-end content.  phew.  long-winded formalities aside, here’s our take on the new scallops hotel full-length.

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rory ferreira has charted an expansive course under the guise of milo, a persona culled from humble beginnings in the wisconsin rap collective nom de rap and sculpted meticulously over the past four years.  as milo gained a solid amount of traction in 2013 with a pair of eps and the stellar cavalcade mixtape, ferreira trotted out a side project called scallops hotel, one that found him mostly in charge of production and experimenting with songs devoid of conventional form.  after quietly releasing poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer) late that year, ferreira returns – more vociferously this time – as scallops hotel once again to deliver plain speaking, a riveting back-to-basics exercise.

plain speaking is the most straightforward lyrical body of work ferreira has offered thus far in his career.  his rhyme schemes, previously dictated by sequences of quick-witted non-sequiturs and compounding philosophical references, are now extremely fluid; standout cuts like “bookoo bread co” seem to come from ferreira’s heart as much as from his mind, and the name-checks that do still necessitate a google search fit comfortably within his narrative.  many tracks also allow the audience to bear witness to ferreira’s rebirth of self.  the downtrodden “roc marciano riff suite 1” distills his growing aversion to the aforementioned fact-checking into a tidy succession of bars before arriving at a thesis that feels central to the entire album: “don’t have to be flying / just existing.”  the notion of relishing the present moment is in line with the overall fluidity of ferreira’s delivery, and adds an extra dimension to the organic nature that already permeates plain speaking.

the musical side of the album is a bit more nuanced and showcases a personal progression rather than a strict reinvention for ferreira.  “lavender chunk” was the first piece of plain speaking teased to the general public, and for good reason; its no-frills production further underscores the project’s direct nature.  the track also functions well as a cursory overview of ferreira’s work for the casual or first-time listener, and its accessibility paired with a reasonably high-profile guest verse from hemlock ernst yields a rare product from ferreira that feels almost radio-ready.

in the context of the rest of plain speaking, however, “lavender chunk” is an anomaly.  most tracks are a bit murkier and some like “tense present” tend to shoot off suddenly into new musical thoughts, as if the non-sequiturs that previously frequented ferreira’s lyrics now manifest in his production.  stabbed piano chords dictate opening number “gnosis, black nationalism, rice”; there is an interlude where a beat pulses tentatively underneath the recitation a henry dumas poem; the penultimate cut “birther” rests comfortably as the album’s lone instrumental track.  the fluidity and renewed earnestness of ferreira’s lyrics binds together plain speaking, and its most crucial result is this unabashed – albeit exhaustive – exploration of timbres and constructs.

when scallops hotel first emerged as a side project in 2013, it felt like a devotion to the self; in 2015 it feels more like a reclamation of the self.  as milo has become increasingly subjected to public expectation, scallops hotel has served to counter any semblance of limitation.  on plain speaking, ferreira has free reign and wisely chooses to surround himself with close, integral contributors.  long-time collaborator safari al is granted one of just three guest verses on the album, and ferreira again enlisted the mixing talents of riley lake and the mastering craftwork of daddy kev.  a few tracks were outsourced to other producers, a mild concession that keeps plain speaking from becoming too self-indulgent and serves as an indicator that ferreira still benefits from outside help.  a perennial struggle for solo artists seems to be finding a proper balance between independence and collaboration; on plain speaking, rory ferreira is in full bloom.