Rachel Goodrich

Q&A: Rachel Goodrich

Rachel Goodrich: Rachel GoodrichRachel Goodrich: Rachel Goodrich (self-released, 2/21/11)

Rachel Goodrich: “Na Na Na”

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About two-thirds through her self-titled sophomore album, Rachel Goodrich devotes an entire track — 38 seconds to be exact — to boasting from the perspective of a thugged-out prehistoric reptile. “I was hanging out with my sister, and I had just got this T-shirt, and it had a dinosaur on it wearing a gangster chain,” the singer/songwriter says.

“So it became the ‘Gangsta Dinosaur.’ My sister was the first member of my band when I was seven years old. I don’t know, we like to mess around, so we kind of came up with that line: ‘I’m a little gangsta dinosaur,’ and she would go, ‘Bam ba ba bam ba ba.’ I just thought to myself, ‘That is brilliant.’ So I was home, bored, one day and turned on my computer and shuffled up a beat. It was awesome. Originally, it was just for fun, and then I showed [producer] Greg Wells and a couple other people, and they were saying, ‘This has to go on the record.’ And I’m like, ‘Nuh-uh. This does not belong on the record.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to put it on there.’ I just went with it.”

Though a song like “G-Dino” isn’t the best of example of Goodrich’s typical vaudeville-pop aesthetic — which uses ukuleles, kazoos, whistles, xylophones, and rhythms that range from swing to mariachi and jazz pop — it adequately represents her playfulness. Having recently moved to Los Angeles, the former Miami native took a few minutes out of her day to talk about her Tinker Toys follow-up, ladybug costumes, and inspirational adventures.

How has living in LA been treating you thus far?

I’ve been here for about a month and a half. It’s groovy, you know. It’s not too bad. It’s a little cooler out here — less humidity. I love Miami, though; don’t get me wrong. I’ll always miss Miami. It’s a great place to go back to.

What prompted the move?

A really strong cup of coffee and good conversation. I don’t know. It was right before a rehearsal, and I was hanging out with my band, and we were just talking. We love traveling, and we love going on tour, and we were talking about just leaving Miami, and so we did it. We just decided to go.

True Widow

Q&A: True Widow

True Widow: As High As The Highest Heavens And From The Center To The Circumference Of The EarthTrue Widow: As High as the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth (Kemado, 3/29/11)

True Widow: “Skull Eyes”

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Following the dissolution of his punk band Slowride, guitarist and vocalist Dan Phillips could have spent his two years living in Massachusetts solely focusing on his art and woodworking. But his creative expression didn’t limit itself to his small, New England quarters. After returning to Dallas, Texas, Phillips crafted a new brand of heavy, melodic material with the help of bassist and vocalist Nicole Estill and drummer Timothy (Slim) Starks, in the trio known as True Widow.

The stonegaze outfit is set to release its second album, As High as the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth, through Kemado Records at the end of next month. The new album merges heartfelt melodies that drip over distorted guitar chords with heavier rock interludes. Here, Philips explains his passion for visual art, True Widow’s approach to music, and the process of writing and recording deep in the Texan woods.

After the disbandment of your previous band, Slowride, you had a brief stay in Massachusetts where you trained in woodworking and some other forms of art. Can you describe a little about your move and your developments in painting, woods, and drawing?

I moved to Boston to go to the furniture-making program at The North Bennet Street School. It was a two-year program, and during those two years, that was all that I was concerned with. I spent every minute that I could at the school. The curriculum included several visits to museums and American furniture collections in New England. Being a person who draws and paints, I was very interested in the whole gamut of early American decorative arts — not only the furniture that I was there to see.

While immersed in research, I found myself exploring the themes and aesthetics of all of the art forms of colonial America up through the Federal period. Unconsciously, the influence of all of this stuff found its way into my drawings and paintings. My approach is simple: I like that; I want to make one too. The things I make are often based on or rooted in something that has existed before, or a variation of a theme — never a reproduction.

Seven That Spells

Q&A: Seven That Spells

Seven That Spells: Future Retro SpasmSeven That Spells: Future Retro Spasm (Beta-Lactam Ring, 5/20/10)

Seven That Spells: “Olympos”

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Croatian space-rock outfit Seven That Spells deals in extended psychedelic guitar freak-outs in the vein of Magma, Circle, Zappa, Trans Am, or Hawkwind. Perhaps its biggest musical influence, however, is Kawabata Makoto, who appears on the 2007 album Men From Dystopia. Founder and guitarist Niko Potočnjak modeled his collective after Makoto’s Acid Mothers Temple; lineups are transient, albums sound raw and live, and though recorded material is certainly released, the band lives for the performance.

The following Q&A was conducted with Potočnjak. He is extremely passionate about the music that his band creates, preferring danger and experimentation over consistency. The most telling quote from his dialogue demonstrates a singular philosophy that eschews genre: “We play music.”

How do you describe your music?

Psychedelic rock for the 23rd Century. New old religion of super loud! Polymetrics and occasional Viking funeral rites.

Can you give us a history of the band?

STS was formed in 2003. The main purpose was to have fun and play rock. Eight years, 60 people, and nine albums later, the purpose remains the same. We believe in the power and sincerity of rock music. I say “we” because STS is a collective — I just happen to be a guy with good organizational skills and a strong vision.

Q&A: Marnie Stern

Marnie Stern: Marnie SternMarnie Stern: s/t (Kill Rock Stars, 10/5/10)

Marnie Stern: “For Ash”

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Give Marnie Stern some credit; she’s been asked the same questions about being a prominent female guitarist so many times it’s amazing she hasn’t flown off the handle. Yet the New York native, known for her furious finger-tapping guitar style, just shrugs it off with a coy smile. Stern’s shredding proficiency, however, cannot be overstated. Many will notice Stern’s giddy falsetto first, but it’s her mesmerizing finger taps that usually earn her the respect and attention of everything within an earshot. She doesn’t so much as play guitar as she does attack it, molesting the fret board with two hands like a zealous sculpture on an out-of-control pottery wheel or a Rubik’s Cube expert frantically searching for the perfect combination of rotations.

As if she was unrelenting enough, Stern has employed Hella drummer Zach Hill on her last two studio albums, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That in 2008, and Marnie Stern in 2010, both on Kill Rock Stars. Together, Hill’s thrashing and Stern’s shredding offer a brainwashing musical diet that’s virtually incomparable — thrash, shred, repeat. Recently, she took time before her two-month US tour to answer a few questions for ALARM.

What was the last thing you did where you felt like you failed, and what, if anything, did you learn from it?

I feel like I am constantly failing in so many areas of life, and that is the only thing that keeps pushing me forward to try and do better. I’ve never had things go smoothly, so I don’t know what kind of person or artist I would be if that was the case.

Animals as Leaders

Q&A: Animals as Leaders

Animals as LeadersAnimals as Leaders: s/t (Prosthetic Records, 4/28/09)

Animals as Leaders: “Tempting Time”

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Begun as a solo project that highlighted guitarist Tosin Abasi‘s unmistakable shredding, Animals as Leaders released its debut album via Prosthetic Records in April of 2009, emitting progressive instrumentals with tasteful ambient and electronic undertones.  The project has since evolved into a trio, now including drummer Navene Koperweis and guitarist Javier Reyes after Abasi received recording help from programming engineer Misha Mansoor.

Whether in the studio or on stage, the group dazzles onlookers with intricate eight-string riffs and complex compositions — never losing its head-banging potential.  Here Abasi discusses his approach to music, his transition to the eight-string guitar, and the new beginnings of a band that pushes the limits of progressive metal.

How would you describe your approach to music in general? Can you give a little background behind the making of Animals As Leaders and the debut album?

Animals As Leaders is a progressive / instrumental metal band. My most fundamental approach to writing would be expressing individuality through the guitar. The first album was the result of a few years of song ideas building up. Misha Mansoor (the producer) was integral in gluing everything together to create some well-thought-out songs.

What about Javier and Navene interested you to include them in your project?

Navene is a savage drummer and Javier may actually be an animal….

Julianna Barwick

Q&A: Julianna Barwick

Julianna Barwick: The Magic PlaceJulianna Barwick: The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty, 2/22/11)

Julianna Barwick: “The Magic Place”

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Since her self-released album Sanguine in 2006, Julianna Barwick has been experimenting with the human voice to create loop-based compositions that turn the concept of a cappella into something completely new and uncharted. Contributor Jeff Terich discusses these atypical methods with Barwick, in addition to how her music is informed by collaboration and personal memories, as she readies the release of her new album, The Magic Place.

The Magic Place has some additional instrumentation, compared to your previous release, Florine. What led you to decide to add some of these extra elements?

I was excited about incorporating some more instrumentation into this record, and when I had the opportunity to use a friend’s space, filled with lots of fun instruments to use, it made it easier to experiment. I especially could not resist the grand piano, which shows up tons on the new record.

Do you find it more challenging to write songs from limited sources? Or is there more liberation in writing vocal-only compositions?

For me, the music that is all vocal is very easy and intuitive for me — it’s when I’m adding instrumentation that it becomes challenging, trying to make the sounds from the instruments fit with the vocals. Making the vocal loops is all done on the spot, so there’s no real pressure that I feel when doing that at all.

When you write songs, how does the process typically begin? Do you ever start with a different instrument and then translate to voice?

Ninety-five percent of the time I’m starting with a vocal loop I’ve made, and building on top. But there are exceptions; for instance, “Unt1,” on Sanguine, started with a guitar line. On the new record there are a couple that started with an instrument; for instance, “Vow” starts with piano and “Bob in Your Gait” starts with guitar. There’s also some stripped-down / non-loop vocalizing on this record, which is new.

Colin Stetson

Q&A: Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 2: JudgesColin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation, 2/22/11)

Colin Stetson: “Judges”

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Powerful, otherworldly, and beautiful, wind player Colin Stetson‘s upcoming record, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, commands attention from start to finish. Largely recorded live without overdubs, Stetson exploits techniques that yield dense layers of multiphonic sound that seem impossible to have come from a single instrument. Here sounding deep and sonorous as a foghorn, there alternating between percussive popping and plaintive moans, while elsewhere emitting swirling, cyclical lines that could nearly pass for strings, Stetson pushes his horns through every timbral possibility.

With such formidable instrumental prowess, one might expect a display of flashy improvisations, yet Stetson uses his command of his instruments in service of intricate compositions, rich in atmosphere and mood, and unmoored from any genre. Moreover, the pieces function together to create a coherent whole, emotionally resonant and deeply affecting.  A record that will sound arresting and fresh to even the most adventurous listeners, New History Warfare Vol. 2 (out on Feb. 22) is an early bright light among this new year’s releases and likely to resurface on many year-end lists.

Adept at bass sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, french horn, and cornet, Stetson studied music at the University of Michigan. From there, stints on both coasts resulted in work with a wide range of music luminaries, including Tom Waits, Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith, and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. More recently, Stetson has startled unsuspecting rock audiences as an opener for stadium indie acts such as Arcade Fire and The National.  Here he explains how this integration of influences creates his own musical worlds.

When I’ve played your music for people, the unanimous reaction has been “that’s a sax?”, which is all the more impressive given that much of it was recorded without overdubbing. Can you explain how you’re able to create such a rich and diverse range of sounds, both in terms of technique and production?

Technically, regarding the instrument, I’m just employing a lot of extended techniques that improvisers have been using for decades. The basis for most of my pieces is in circular breathing; by breathing in through the nose and continuing to breath out of the mouth, you can create these longer, uninterrupted pieces of music. After that, it’s a lot of “voicing,” or using mouth and throat placement to form chords instead of single notes, specific arpeggiated lines to move those chords into individual and distinct melodies/harmonies, and also quite a bit of actual singing through the instrument.

Having been working this out for many years, when it came time to start recording this music, I knew that a straight-up stereo recording would only take a snapshot of what was happening, and would ultimately flatten the experience. There’s no way to capture the essence of live performance in this manner, not if the idea is to recreate the same image through recording. So what I try to do is to capture every distinct and separate element I can, individually with separate and different microphones, so that this information can then be reorganized in the mixing process, and, rather than an attempt at recreating the live experience, we create an alternate version of that experience, something that is specific to the process of recording. In simpler terms, I wanted to make a record like a Haruki Murakami novel or a Terrence Malick film.