Studio Visit: Key Club Recording Company

Benton Harbor, Michigan, isn’t the first town that comes to mind for music recording. Yet the small community is home to Key Club Recording Company, one of the best and most beautiful studios in the Midwest, founded by producer/engineer duo Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins.


Q&A: Bloodiest

Bloodiest: DescentBloodiest: Descent (Relapse, 3/29/11)

Bloodiest: “Pastures”

[audio:|titles=Bloodiest: “Pastures”]

In structure and sound, Chicago post-metal septet Bloodiest is a vast and diverse experience. All members keep a busy schedule with their other projects (past and current bands include Yakuza, Atombombpocketknife, 90 Day Men, and Follows), but they also bring something quite particular to the massive sound that is Bloodiest.  Their newest album, Descent, is a barrage of grinding bass textures, heavy percussion, sonorous piano chords, and hazy yet potent vocals. It’s a bleak atmosphere, but with further inspection, it also offers a deep sense of vulnerability.

Not unlike the sprawling landscapes of their favorite films and the thunderous sounds of the oft-compared Swans, these arrangements are meant to be dramatic and wide in scope. When listening to the six movements on Descent, one may be reminded of a scene in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Valhalla Rising. These are dire, heavy orchestrations for those who expect nothing less from their music.

During this discussion, guitarist Tony Lazzara shares some of the band’s non-musical influences and what it’s like to work in a larger lineup.

How would you describe the sound and direction of Bloodiest?

At the core, we are a rock band, plain and simple. We are interested in creating an environment that is dynamic and dark, but beautiful and repulsive at times.

Discuss the dynamic of writing or performing in a larger ensemble. Is this new for most of you?

A few of us have worked in larger groups, but for the most part, Bloodiest operates as a small cast and crew making a film during the writing process. For example, when you work on a collaborative project, often times everyone shares tasks. At one point, you could be the director and the next minute you could be the camera man. By this I mean we all contribute to every aspect of the writing process in some way.

The key for us is that the people in the band have diverse skill sets. Once the overall theme is established, you have to decide who will best develop the details to reinforce the concepts. One of our strengths is that we have all been close friends for many years. This allows us insight into each other’s strong suits and weaknesses. The important element is getting everyone to maintain the aesthetic decided upon. If you are working on a horror film, you can’t have someone writing in a slapstick comedy routine.

Liz Harris (Grouper)

Q&A: Liz Harris of Grouper

Liz Harris: DivideLiz Harris: Divide (Root Strata, 2010)

When a contemporary artist creates with the basic ideas of darkness, light, and nature in mind, the results can be bewitching and intriguing on a very primal level. These concepts can yield wonderful images and sounds in capable hands. Such is the case with Liz Harris, better known as Grouper.

Harris has been experimenting with the mediums of video, sound, and illustrations since 2005, with the release of her self-titled CD-R, Grouper. She also has enjoyed success with albums on myriad labels, including Root Strata, Weird Forest, and Type Records. Because these limited-pressing CDs and LPs come and go so quickly, there have been three pressings of her last full-length, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (the last of which was released on Harris’ own label, the simply named Grouper).

With Harris’ most recent contribution, Divide, she combines her own personal drawings and a DVD of augmented, aquatic imagery for a celebration of life’s abstract wonders. For those not familiar with Grouper or Liz Harris, her brand of oceanic and hypnotizing art is absolutely unique. In the following conversation, we get a rare glimpse behind the multi-layered black curtain that is her craft, as well as some insight into her new book.

What was your inspiration for your recent book of drawings?

I started making art in this style about six or seven years ago, at the same time that I started making music as Grouper (the first piece I made was for the Way Their Crept insert). A desire to escape from anxiety definitely guided the trajectory of both. I feel, as with music, that I often understand the nature of a piece after it is done. The initial concept is intuitive, autonomous, and outside.

What I’ve learned about the pieces in Divide, by observation, is that they talk about gateways across various separations — between people, within various elements of one’s own character. I feel invested in questioning the permanence perceived in certain boundaries, in regards to space, and to [the] nature of our selves. The idea that these items are flexible is terrifying and mesmerizing.

I have a strong urge, like a lot of people, to make things black and white, to make sense of what frustrates or frightens me, make it fit in to a grid. Making patterns feels like a way to unwind knots, like picking the way through a labyrinth. What I most enjoy in them is that they give me that satisfaction of finding an order in things, while reminding me of the impossibility/absurdity of that task, all at once — a pattern that unfolds and changes to incorporate its own flaws.