It gives me great pleasure to present a couple of short interviews in support of Handmade Birds, the incredibly exciting new label from Pyramids man R. Loren. Fittingly, the label’s first release is the latest offering from Evan Caminiti whose West Winds LP topped my best of 2010 list. Many thanks to all concerned for taking the time to respond. Firstly, Evan on his new record, When California Falls Into The Sea.
When California is described as an ‘evocation of the urban.’ How did you set about trying to create that kind of atmosphere?
Really from just soaking up my surroundings after spending more time within the last year in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. Lately I've been spending a lot of time in the city, unable to venture so much out into nature and soak up the open spaces that inform Barn Owl's work, the latest Higuma record, and other solo work.
And on that note, how would you say it differs from your previous releases?
It was a different conceptual approach than most albums, it think it became more of a subconscious way of processing some of the depressing and intense aspects of city life. It really wasn't at all about evoking a cinematic quality this time around, more of a therapeutic, meditative practice. The sounds are dark, but also uplifting and devotional sounding at times.
Also, the really big difference here was that I wanted to get down to the essence of things and focus on solo guitar pieces and pieces with only a couple guitar tracks. With the last two full lengths it was all about layering sounds, lush arrangements for multiple instruments. Here it is all about electric guitar and achieving something lush with much more modest means. It took me over a year to be able to create enough pieces in this style that were interesting and worked as a whole- it was definitely a challenge doing something so naked, but the time was right for it, and it kind of made itself even though it did take it's time doing so.
What’s the significance of the title?
It's meant as sort of a metaphorical thing based off gloomy, apocalyptic feelings that I get. But at the same time it's dark it also has a hint of humor in its absurdity, kinda of like, "the sky is falling!" It just felt right for the music which is dark but filled with hope.
Following Digging the Void, your last two releases have really felt like consistent, self-contained visions in terms of atmosphere/the relation between sound and artwork/the guitar tones and melodies. Is that something that applies to California too?
Yeah, that's a huge part of music for me and it makes me happy that you've noticed. There is a big emphasis in finding a relationship between the textures of the visual art and the timbres of the sound within.
For California, I found myself thinking about the moon and the stark image of it hanging in the sky really fit with the concept of only having one or two guitar tracks per song and stripping things down to their essence. I took the picture looking out my window one night and edited to have the velvety texture of an aquatint. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquatint
The music possesses this feeling of light piercing through haze so it was important to communicate that.
Finally, and on a slightly unrelated note, can you tell us anything about the new Barn Owl LP, Shadowlands, or any other plans for the year ahead?
Ah yes...Shadowlands was about recording some longer pieces mostly live. We mixed up the instrumentation, Jon plays a lot of his Juno 60 and I focused on a lot of organ tones although there is still guitar on every track in addition to some piano and vocals. The album is an EP on Thrill Jockey which we will have with us for our epic 32 show European/UK tour coming up in April/May with Jefre Cantu Ledesma. These pieces are minimal, cosmic, and heavy. Meant to be played loud. We used some massive amplifiers on this recording and played with a lot of live stereo delay.
The album was recorded and produced by Phil Manley at Lucky Cat Studios in SF in the midst of working on our new full length for Thrill Jockey. We're recording to tape for all of this new material and using lots of Lucky Cat's amazing vintage gear so it's really sounding rich.
And R. Loren on his latest venture...
Firstly how did the label start up?
I have never been shy about taking on too much. Last year, though, I felt my emotional limit working on those two massive collaborative projects Sailors With Wax Wings and White Moth, while continuing Pyramids many recordings and fulfilling my role as husband, teacher, son, father, friend, etc, etc. It occurred to me, upon turning 33 and hearing the news of a second child, that I would need to figure out a creative way to channel my obsessive musical energy in a way that was not as emotionally draining as the recording process is for me. I can't live without music, so pipedreams of my wife and two year old daughter helping me pack orders on the weekend sounded like a fun affair. I am not in any way underestimating the daunting task of running a record label or any other business for that matter, but this is something that works with my schedule in my life in a way that does not result in the same taxing stress as the recording process. I will still be recording, but intend on slowing that schedule to focus on this label for a while.
Is there a clear aesthetic behind the label in terms of both artwork and music? You seem to have a pretty diverse selection of artists lined up...
My ultimate goal is to set up an archive of releases that simply cannot be pigeon-holed or classified, yet in all of its diversity there is sense. A method to the madness I suppose. The big thing that ties the artists together is the level of innovation. I want to release artists that are disparate in sound and geography while maintaining a consistent thread that each are the best in their respective genre, which is generally dark due to my own musical taste, and are aggressively changing the paradigm. I keep the aesthetic of the site white right now because it is neutral and clean, and the notion of black and cobwebs will cause people to misjudge the bands on the label with metal leanings that aren't stereotypically metal.
Could you expand upon the different series of releases you list on the website (Dark Icons/white label etc), and what differentiates them?
Dark Icons was inspired by the Criterion Collection mentality. There are many artists- the first that comes to mind is the first in this series, Blut Aus Nord- that are CRIMINALLY underrated and at the same time highly influential. I felt that a series that documents the work of such important artists was appropriate. The cassette series simply comes from my love for cassette culture and the idea that many artists produce work ideal for the medium. Ironically enough, as we travel deeper into the download age, the lo fi warmth a listener gets from cassettes is something that can't quite be reproduced in an mp3 download, much like vinyl.Finally, white label vinyl releases have been a part of underground music for many years. Black records in white sleeves, limited runs by great artists that may not be in the rhythm of doing a full blown album at the moment but have good stuff to contribute.
The Sailors With Wax Wings record from last year suggests you’re pretty well-connected; can we expect to see any of the contributors from that record appearing on the HB roster?
Possibly. I love every one of those artists and would work with them again in any capacity.
Finally, what does 2011 hold for Handmade Birds? What do we have to look forward to?
April kicks off the Evan Caminiti LP and the vinyl issue of the Blut Aus Nord classic "Mort", and May will see two more classics- King Of Sweet by His Name Is Alive which is a total cult gem long sold out and never before on vinyl, and Celestiial's first full length, also long sold out and never before on vinyl, Desolate North. June will be exciting as the new Circle Of Ouroborus cd will hit, which is literally the best record I have heard in two decades, along with new Servile Sect. TenHornedBeast 3xCD in July, and much, much more. I am very excited about the label.
Check out the Handmade Birds website for more information right here
In light of the above, it seems only appropriate to begin with Evan’s new record. After the billowing, layered clouds of distortion that characterized the outstanding West Winds, California… represents an altogether more stripped-back affair; single notes and phrases are left to hang in the ether, with Caminiti’s wonderfully expressive playing foregrounded. It’s a brave move, but one that utterly pays off, producing some of his most spectacularly emotional moments to date and ultimately serves only as further confirmation that he really is one of the US underground’s finest guitarists. Seriously, don’t sleep on this one… Scope a track here
As if releasing one killer record in the space of two months wasn’t enough, the latest release from Higuma, Evan’s project with Lisa McGee has also dropped on the exemplary Root Strata imprint. Moving away from the barren haze of last year’s Den Of Spirits, the duo have instead embraced the bottomless whirlpools of reverb and delay that characterize the best of Windy & Carl’s output and the results are nothing less than devastating. In stark contrast to California Evan’s guitar work here takes on a super-saturated quality that threatens to obliterate McGee’s gorgeous, deeply textural vocals at every turn, gliding between impenetrable walls of delay and vast, tidal washes of distortion. I sometimes worry that the amount of superlatives I throw at these guys somehow diminishes any notional impact my write-ups might have, but I cannot recommend Pacific Fog Dreams enough; it’s utterly, utterly beautiful and just about the most stunning example of modern shoegaze you’re ever likely to hear. Scope a few tracks over at the Root Strata website
On a similarly blissed-out note, Belong’s long-awaited new effort drops on Kranky this month. As I suggested in the last column, the response has been slightly mixed but to these ears, Common Era is nothing short of a revelation. Extending the bleached vignettes of Colorloss Record into a world of monochrome dream pop, this is a record that is at once desperately sad and strangely comforting. Put simply, if the idea of William Basinski remixing the greatest shoegaze record you’ve never heard sounds appealing, this represents pretty much essential listening.
No less intriguing is Bee Mask’s elaborately titled Canzoni Dal Laboratorio Del Silenzio Cosmico I, a baffling and deeply addictive slab of synth machinations which, having originally been released in a limited cassette run last year, has now been pressed onto wax by the new Editions Mego offshoot, Spectrum Spools (curated by John Elliott of Emeralds). Admittedly, it can be a little hard to move for all the synth-based LPs currently clogging the ambient/drone scene, but this is one offering that really stands out, eschewing any semblance of new age worship in favour of a schizophrenic and at times incredibly aggressive approach, encompassing huge depth charges of juddering noise, warped drones and skittering shards of melody. More information can be found here
Finally, for those who have been desperately trying to scope a copy of Motion Sickness Of Time Travel’s gorgeous Seeping Through The Veil Of The Unconscious, Digitalis have recently repressed the album on white vinyl. You can pick up a copy right here
That’s it for now, but next time expect reviews of Jon Porras’ sublime new record, as well as the small matter of two new LPs from Grouper. Thanks, as ever, for reading.