5 Questions: Teething Veils

Teething Veils official 2022When it comes to brewing deliciously wistful pop songs that are simultaneously beautiful and grandiose, yet also intimate, DC’s Teething Veils is a mastercrafter.

Led by DC-based singer-songwriter Greg Svitil, Teething Veils has long distinguished itself as a one-of-a-kind music collective that defies easy categorization. Clearly, there are elements of folk and traditional singer-songwriting at play (Leonard Cohen is a key influence), but there’s also something decidedly cinematic and strange. “To Have and to Hold,” Teething Veils” latest opus, feels like an epic soundtrack to an obscure art film that revels in fever dreams, distant memories and the surreal.

A key factor behind Teething Veils’ creative flourishing is its growing array of talented contributors. Initially, the band essentially acted as a one-man side project for Svitil. Today, Teething Veils is a five-piece ensemble featuring Kevin Shrew on percussion, Craig on bass, Hester on cello and Adrina on violin. The result is a richer, fuller sound that amplifies the emotional stakes of Svitil’s gorgeous songs.

While there’s no mistaking the melancholic nature of Svitil’s songs, there’s also an uplifting, dare I say – life-affirming aspect to the band. Washington Post music critic Chris Richards said it best when he observed that Teething Veils transforms songs that feel “funereal” into cathartic experiences, allowing “emotions to be purged and smothered, making time feel stranger than slow.”

I am delighted that Teething Veils is back to play We Fought the Big One at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant again. For the September 9, 2022 show, Teething Veils will be performing a stripped back set with Greg, Hester and Adrina. To add to the atmosphere, the show will be performed at midnight by candlelight.

In the interview below, I asked Greg about this special show. Our conversation also covered topics such as the creative process behind the new album, the evolution of Greg’s approach to songwriting, and drawing inspiration from real people and places to write songs. Read on…

1) Congratulations on your new album To Have and To Hold. It’s gorgeous. How closely does the finished album compare to what you envisioned when you started writing these songs?

Greg: Thank you, Rick. There are details that surprise me when I listen back, but as a whole To Have and to Hold sounds similar to how I thought it would prior to recording. I didn’t really imagine the recordings until I’d written all the songs, so it’s hard to say what I would have envisioned at that stage. I am really pleased with how we found the essence of the songs together as a band by playing in the rehearsal room, and also through playing live before recording. Playing the songs with other people in the room affected how they took shape. There are nuances that call attention to themselves differently with an audience. Playing the songs live as a way of leading up to recording has been a helpful part of that process. We tracked the core of the album live as a band, more or less in the same sequence of the finished album. What you hear is similar to how we sound when we were rehearsing. We benefited from recording these last two records with Don Godwin. He knows what we’re after and how to facilitate it. He has an easy, gentle way of setting the right mood and coaxing the clearest performances from people.

Teething Veils at Rhizome June 2021

2) To what extent has Teething Veils’ approach to songwriting evolved to reflect the fact you work with more musicians and have a richer, fuller sound?

Greg: My way of writing songs has remained fairly simple, though over time and with experience, songs seem to have come out steadily truer to my intentions. I believe that comes from having a lighter hand throughout the writing process. We all learn the songs together and teach them to each other while we’re getting to know them.

3) Let’s talk about lyrics. How much of what you write about is based on personal experience versus your imagination? I’m dying to know is there a “Baltimore Broommaker” in real life? Is “Ruby’s Restaurant” an actual place?

Greg: These songs are all either autobiographical or about people I’ve known. The broommaker is any number of characters who give us a hand in sweeping our dilemmas under the rug. Ruby’s is really called Ruby’s Kitchen, though I misremembered the name of the place as Ruby’s Restaurant. It’s across the road from where the events in that song, The Poor Clare Monastery, and Christmas in Virginia all take place, and there is a fortune teller next door.

Teething Veils To Have and To Hold

4) The cover of “To Have and To Hold” features a striking sunset over an ocean with red clouds courtesy of longtime collaborator Adam de Boer. What can you tell us about how this cover came about?

Greg: It’s a painting called Windchop no. 5. Adam noticed a recurrence of bodies of water—rivers, lakes, and the sea—in the songs, and traces of optimism, and volunteered the painting as cover art for To Have and to Hold. I don’t have much of a tendency to self-evaluate while writing, and since I share sketches of the songs with Adam ahead of recording so that he can make the artwork, he’s the first person who hears our albums in sequence, and his impressions are some of the first ones that I hear. To Have and to Hold has some overt threads that tie it together: the curiosity of what it means to have or to hold anything, and what comforts we find along the way when experiences and life itself are ephemeral. There’s serenity and aching at the same time. The water in the painting is choppy and you can tell that there’s a storm that’s passed and is calming down. The strings of clouds and the horizon encourage awe and optimism. Adam has made every one of our album covers and I consider him to be a member of the band.

Teething Veils at Slash Run

5) For Friday’s show, Teething Veils is going to be playing a stripped back set with just Greg, Hester, and Adrina by candlelight. How do you feel about presenting Teething Veils songs in this way?

Greg: I’m curious about how the songs will present themselves with those arrangements, and at that hour. I’m glad that we’re doing this. Thank you for having us.

Listen to and purchase “To Have and To Hold” and more Teething Veils music on Bandcamp. Be sure to catch Teething Veils at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, September 9, 2022 for a special midnight show by candlelight. Celebrity Meg and John Howard (The Plums, Jowe Head and the Fleeting Glimpses) will be joining us behind the turntables. Join us at 10pm for the fun!

September

 

5 Questions: Sansyou

There’s something magical about the way DC instrumentalists SANSYOU capture your attention with their delicate guitar chimes and spacey atmospherics.

Sansyou live at DC9_June 2022
Led by guitarist and long-time DC musician David Nicholas, Sansyou has always been a band that revels as much in the spaces in-between sounds as it does the ecstasy from a slow build and release of pure guitar magic. To put in more elemental terms, this is the kind of music that evokes the beauty and wonder of the California sunshine glistening across the waves and the restorative power of nature itself. It’s no wonder I keep going back to listen. And every time, I feel an inner calm and a connection to the natural world that is hard to explain.

It’s good news then that Sansyou is back with a sparkling new EP, “True North Coast.” The six-track release may be the instrumental collective’s finest offering to date. With contributions from Scott Gould (percussion loops), Michael Blank (bass) and Failure’s Kelli Scott (drums), the record sees Sansyou shine like never before, with their trademark guitar lines and melodies evoking The Durutti Column and The Chameleons U.K. Do yourself a favor and pick up “True North Coast.”

With a brand new release now out to the world, Sansyou is back playing live shows. We are especially excited that the band is returning for a special show at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant on Friday, August 5th at 10pm. A perfect time then for another chat with Sansyou guitarist David Nicholas about their new release…

1) First off, congratulations on the new EP! It sounds amazing. What can you tell us about the title “True North Coast”?

David: Thanks. Over the past few years, I think we’ve all felt a bit lost and dislocated to some degree. As the songs came together for this record, so many references and paths led to southern California in ways I couldn’t plan or explain. When travel became possible, that feeling was affirmed over several trips to Los Angeles as people there became more involved in the record. So, it was really a west coast feeling that guided the whole project.

True North Coast cover2) The cover for “True North Coast” is just as atmospheric as the sounds contained within. How did the cover come about?

David: I’m glad you felt that connection. That’s what happens when everyone involved has the same intentions for the images and music to work together. It’s always important to me, especially with instrumental music, that the artwork pull the listener into the same space as the music. Michael Blank, who played bass on the record is a photographer in LA and he felt the same way about the relationship of the images and music. I wanted some continuity from the last one, Eyes Front, and to capture the seaside feeling in the songs. He took the images in Laguna Beach and I think the music comes through perfectly in each shot we used.

 

David N with Pink Paisley_January 2022

3) From a production perspective, I don’t think Sansyou’s music has ever been captured more clearly than it has on “True North Coast.” What can you tell me about the recording process? Did it differ from previous releases?

David: More time. I’ve usually recorded all my guitar parts in one day. This time I decided to take that pressure off and do multiple sessions. Quite a few songs were recorded that didn’t end up on this one. I gave myself a chance to listen and live with the basic tracks for some time before committing to develop them. The luxury of editing without a deadline I suppose? Bass and drums were recorded in Los Angeles, some percussion in Pennsylvania, and the rest here in DC. At this point, recording parts remotely which the pandemic may have accelerated is actually an easy way to work. It allowed me to take advantage of Kelli Scott’s availability to drum on it before Failure left Los Angeles for their tour. Yet more LA connections.

Back cover art sansyou4) I love that fans have the option of purchasing “True North Coast” on cassette? What made you decide to release it this way?

David: I’ve been buying new music on tape for some time and find that I listen to it differently. It definitely encourages listening to a full side without interruption so I focus and absorb the music more I think. Plus the tape available now is vastly superior to what we grew up with. For this one, I found a source for high ferric cobalt tape -if you want to geek out on the tech specs as I do. And from a production standpoint, tape is fast to turnaround and very affordable. So given the fidelity on top of that, it was an easy choice.

Sansyou live DC9 May 2022 Nancy pic

5) What has it been like to bring these magical sounding compositions from “True North Coast” to a live audience? Especially after quite a period where livestreams from home were the only option.

David: Everything is different now so live performances have changed too. The songs get a different spin in the duo format that we’re performing with now. I’m having fun using loops for the chords and my friend Scott Gould is on percussion. He uses a self-contained kit that sounds amazing with brushes in a way I’ve always wanted to hear but never could until now. This will be our third show together and it’s been a lot of fun since we go back many years and are just now getting around to playing out together. It’s great to have live music coming back and we appreciate the chance to play with the Big One again.

Listen to and purchase Sansyou’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to catch Sansyou at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, August 5, 2022 at 10pm. Hometown Sounds Podcast Host and DJ Paul Vodra will be joining us behind the turntables. Join us for the fun! 

August2022

5 Questions: Dunia & Aram

Like master chefs, the talented duo Dunia and Aram are all about making delectable confections out of the best ingredients possible.

Dunia and Aram 6

In the case of Dunia and Aram, those ingredients include punky reggae, soul, jazz and more than a dollop of indie pop.

There’s an almost indefinable quality of magic to the way Dunia and Aram weave these disparate sounds and styles together in songs that are both effervescent and emotional. The quality of the musicianship is dazzling, a clear reflection that, after making music together for over 20 years, Dunia and Aram have mastered their craft.

Over the years, Dunia Best and Aram Sinnreich have performed around the world as a duo and with their bands Dubistry and Brave New Girl, as well as supporting a broad range of artists including post-punk icons Vivien Goldman and Ari-Up, as well as King Django, The Specialized Project, and Low Lily. It’s a testament to the duo’s versatility that they can play with such a wide spectrum of performers.

During the pandemic, Dunia and Aram have honed their performance as an acoustic duo at home in Silver Spring, Maryland, working with legendary German producer Hans Nieswandt on a new album of original music, titled “Bedfellows,” which was just released. The album includes a cover of Vivien Goldman’s post-punk classic ‘Launderette,’ and it can be streamed and downloaded starting July 8th from duniaandaram.bandcamp.com.

With Dunia & Aram set to play the Friday, July 1st edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant, I reached out to the duo to ask them a few questions about their remarkable music project and their first proper album.

1) How does it feel to be releasing your debut album after playing together for over 20 years? 

D&A: This isn’t really our debut album! Dunia and Aram have collectively released many recordings over the years, including three EPs and two singles by our neo-soul band Brave New Girl, and two EPs and an album of dubs and remixes by our reggae soul band Dubistry. Plus we’ve played together on a bunch of other people’s recordings, such as ska super-group The Specialized Project UK. This is still a first in some ways, though. It’s the first time we’ve recorded just as Dunia & Aram. And it’s the first album we’ve put out together with label support, which has been fantastic.

Dunia and Aram album cover Bedfellows

2) When I listen to your music, I hear so many disparate sounds and styles coming together – reggae, punk, jazz, indie pop – how did you arrive at the Dunia & Aram sound? 

D&A: We think of this as New York music. Growing up in Brooklyn (Aram) and the Bronx (Dunia), our sonic environment was a mix of all these styles and more. There was no clean dividing line between jazz people, Latin people, hip-hop people, reggae people, punk people, and so forth, so there was no dividing line in the music. One of the nice things about recording for a “world music” label in Germany is that they’re not bound by America’s segregationist aesthetics, and they appreciate all of the many voices that crowd together and mix in unexpected ways in our music.

Dunia and Aram and Vivien

3) Outside of making music together as a duo, you have played with some legendary musicians from the post-punk era, most notably Ari-Up of The Slits and Vivien Goldman. How did you come to work with these legends and what was the experience like?

D&A: The musical partnerships we’ve been so lucky to have are really friendships in sonic form. When we first met Ari-Up in NYC back in 2000 or thereabouts, at a now-defunct club called Wetlands, we just instantly vibed. We spent the whole night talking, and from that moment on, we were family. Within a week or two, we were backing up Ari at shows (the first one might have been the Knitting Factory). She trusted us to play the right sounds without even rehearsing the material. For a while, Brave New Girl was her backing band, but our friendship long outlasted those particular collaborations, and she was in the hospital room when our daughter was born, about a year before she herself departed this plane.

Ari always wanted to introduce us to Vivien, but we never met until we collaborated on organizing a giant tribute concert after Ari passed, with members of the Slits, PIL, Neneh Cherry, and countless other punky reggae luminaries playing her songs together at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. After that, Viv was family, too, and when she decided she wanted to start playing live shows (around the release of Resolutionary), she brought us with her — as much for the emotional support as for the musical support. We’ve been gigging together ever since.

4) Dunia & Aram recently played in Cologne. How did this show come about and what can you tell us about the way audiences respond to your music there?

D&A: Our original Cologne connection is through our producer, Hans Nieswandt, another wonderful collaborator who began as a friend. We put the album together with Hans over the internet during COVID, and he’s the one who brought it to GMO the Label, which is also in Cologne. So when we were planning a trip to Paris for Aram’s academic work, we let GMO know, and they put together a showcase concert to debut the new album, just in time for the first batch of CDs to be printed. We played at a legendary rock club called the Blue Shell, which has amazing old NYC vibes, but is also very European in a way. We connected with the wonderful drummer Opek, who’s played with us on Brave New Girl and Hans Nieswandt recordings, but never met us in person before, and the three of us really clicked. The room was full of music and media industry people, and they were so enthusiastic, we felt like rockstars. Even our perfectionist, audiophile mastering engineer NUMINOS gave us a good review. It was wonderful to feel appreciated for everything that we are, as opposed to having to fit American musical categories, pleasing a ska crowd at one gig and a jazz crowd at another, and a folk crowd at another, never getting to show off all of our facets at once. That said, Cologne does have an amazing ska scene, and they were dancing the hardest!

Dunia and Aram at Marx April 2022

5) Now that your debut album is out, what are your near-term future plans? Please tell us we won’t have to wait 20 more years for the next Dunia & Aram album. LOL!

D&A: We’re already writing material for the second Dunia & Aram album, and we’ll be playing two of those songs at WFTBO. We’re doing a lot of gigging together in the USA (next stop, NYC), and Dunia is also gigging a lot with her all-women ska supergroup Rudegirl Revue. We’re currently trying to set up some shows in the UK this fall, since we’ll both already be in the British Isles for other gigs. We’re also playing now in the DMV with an incredible world music group called Tributary Project, which combines elements American folk, rock, and R&B vibes with Kenyan percussion, plus Egyptian and Balkan vocal music, among other traditions, plus the two of us doing our thing. We played at the National Cathedral for the One Journey Festival last week, and we’ll be playing again at Bossa next month. Two of the drummers from that project, the Grammy-nominated Joseck Asikoye and Justo Asikoye, will be playing with us at WFTBO. It’s the same vibe as back in our Ari-Up days. We haven’t even rehearsed with them yet as we write this, but we know it’ll sound great because we vibe with them. Maybe they’ll be gracious enough to play on our next album!

Listen to and purchase Dunia & Aram’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to catch Dunia & Aram at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, July 1, 2022 at 10pm. Come early at 9pm for a sneak preview of “Bedfellows.” Translove Airwaves producer, filmmaker, radio show host extraordinaire Matthew Levin will be joining us behind the turntables. Join us for the fun! 

July2022

 

5 Questions: Spring Silver

Are music genres like bones – made to be broken? One listen to Maryland-based “post-genre” project SPRING SILVER and you might be inclined to think so.

Spring Silver 1(photo by Zig Coughlin)

The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist K Nkanza, SPRING SILVER keeps listeners guessing with its spinning plates approach to genre-shifting. “I Could Get Used to This,” Spring Silver’s recently released second full-length, is a tour de force of the band’s many strengths, encompassing everything from fist-pumping post-hardcore fury to wistful indie pop, strutting dance floor flourishes and even some dollops of dream pop.

It’s a credit to the talent of K Nkanza that this wide-eyed, multitudinal approach to music-making never comes across as contrived. In fact, all of SPRING SILVER’s different musical flavors blend together seamlessly like your favorite rainbow waffle ice cream cone — and the music is just as delicious.

With Spring Silver set to play the Friday, June 3rd edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant, I reached out to K to ask him a few questions about his remarkable music project.

1) Let’s start with a little background. How did Spring Silver form?

K: Spring Silver is my musical project that I started after my previous band Aerial View broke up. I felt that having it be a solo project would feel more freeing creatively.

2) One of the things I love most about Spring Silver’s music is how the band breaks down barriers between genres. From the irresistible metallic crunch of “Little Prince” and “O Kristi” to the dance floor ready rhythms of “My Feelings on the Matter” to the Robin Guthrie-inspired dreaminess of “Call It Strength,” Spring Silver weaves together so many different styles and sounds so effortlessly and it’s always emotionally powerful. Is the band on a mission to tear down perceived genre barriers or is this something that’s not even thought about?

K: I try my best to create music that’s kind of “post-genre” where I take as many of the musical styles that I’m fond of as I can and combine them. It’s also meant to be a reflection of the vast amount of information that we all take in on a daily basis. “We” as in just everyday people.

3) Spring Silver has never sounded better than on the new album, “I Could Get Used to This.” Everything sounds so crisp and clear. What was it like to make this album, especially with so many guest performers and different instruments and sounds to capture? How pleased is the band with the end result and the reception it has received?

K: I feel as though both I and my friend Ananth whom I mixed this album with are really honing our engineering skills. I’ve always been fond of really tight, clean production. I wanted this album to stand out in an era of noisey stuff and lo-fi (which I love as well). I think the performances and the mix really helps unify the guest vocalists and the different drummers on this album. That and the fact that I was doing guitar and bass for all the songs unified the sound quite a bit.
Spring Silver 2(photo by Caroline Miller-Bruns)

4) In an interview with Bandcamp, K says that one of their aims with Spring Silver is to “represent a sort of abstract feeling, an abstract anxiety through a narrative.” Is there catharsis from this anxiety when performing these songs live?

K: I think there is some catharsis. Though I’m also preoccupied with trying to perform my best. I’m really lucky to be doing live shows with such talented players. I feel like we’re all on the same wavelength, so that makes it a lot of fun!

5) Spring Silver’s bandcamp page makes it clear the band likes to have fun with genre signifiers. Queer metal and They/Themcore immediately jump out, of course, then you have the old standbys “alternative,” “progressive rock” and “math rock.” But the one that makes me laugh out loud is “shugazi” – shoegaze infected post-hardcore because…why not? If there’s one thing Spring Silver has taught me, it’s that any combination of sounds is possible. Care to comment, K?

K: “Shugazi” is based on this post from a message board that’s kind of a running joke in music circles online. Somebody posted about how they had thought “shoegaze” was pronounced like “fugazi.” It’s kind of a fitting genre descriptor for Spring Silver, because the music kind of sounds like a mix of shoegaze and 90’s post-hardcore.

Listen to and purchase Spring Silver’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to catch Spring Silver at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, June 3, 2022 at 10pm. DC punk legends Brendan Canty (Messthetics) and Tom Berard (Tone) will be guest DJing.

June2022(1)

5 Questions: L’Avenir

Jason Sloan_Jan2019USE

If there’s one musician who understands the enduring allure of the analogue synth, it’s Jason Sloan.

Since 2012, Sloan has specialized in crafting weird and wonderful minimalist electronic and synth wave via his passion project, L’Avenir, all while adhering to a strict “analogue and vintage equipment only” mantra. For fans of early 80s synth acts like Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Fad Gadget, the chilly electronic aesthetic of L’Avenir is a dark dream come true.

L’Avenir has released six albums to date, most recently “Shadow & Reflection,” which came out in September 2021. One look at the gorgeous album cover art and pale, pink vinyl, and it’s obvious that Sloan’s commitment to crafting a distinctive aesthetic for L’Avenir goes beyond the music. As a video artist and professor who teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Sloan draws on his many talents to produce a visual experience for fans that matches the music every step of the way.

Interestingly, L’Avenir represents something of a second life for Sloan. For many years, Sloan’s primary musical focus was in crafting gorgeous ambient sonic canvasses using electronic sounds. While Sloan clearly revels in L’Avenir’s more structured pop approach, he is by no means finished with ambient. We can expect more experiments with pure electronic space in the very near future, he assures.

For DC area music fans, the Friday, May 6, 2022 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant presents a great opportunity to discover what makes L’Avenir so compelling. I asked Jason Sloan five questions via email to learn more about his beguiling music project and journey as a musician and artist. Read on…

Jason Sloan_Nov 2021

1) Tell us a little about your journey as a musician and sound artist. How did you go from making spacey, ambient music for many years to icy synthwave?

Jason: For me there was never that much of a sonic disconnect between the genres. So much of the sequencer driven music of “ambient/space music” artists like Tangerine Dream, Michael Hoenig and even early Steve Roach has a lot in common with the synthwave genre.  I was never classically trained as a musician so my approach to compositions was, and still is to an extent, a lot like painting. I think about sound as colour, texture etc. So when I started writing and recording music back in the 90’s it was easier for me to learn my craft thinking about sound like watercolor if that makes sense. The strict beatless ambient music I created for almost a decade and a half was, in hindsight, my music school as I learned about music technology and what it could do. But I’ve always loved Synthwave, Post-punk, New Wave, New Romantic (sooo many sub genres – ha) since I can remember. I owe a lot of that to my Aunt who introduced me to bands like The Cars, Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran etc. back in the very early 80’s. Once that door was cracked open I just tried to find about as many of those bands as I could back then by reading NME, Melody Maker, Smash Hits and mix tape trading. So in my mind, moving from the ambient genre into Synthwave was just a natural progression once I got a better handle on the technology.

2) What is it about the analogue synth sound and vintage equipment that resonates with you?

Jason: At the risk of sounding corny, there’s something about the sound of vintage analogue equipment that just feels like home to me. Part of it, I’m sure, is that so much of the music from my teenage years was composed using what, back then, was state of the art. But I’m also very much about process and craft. I really enjoy the tactile nature of interconnecting drum machines, sequencers, synthesizers and getting them to talk to each other. Even more so with a non-MIDI kit. Not that I’m opposed to working strictly on a computer or in a DAW, but there’s something about creating with vintage hardware and pure electricity that really is appealing to me. It’s like the machines are alive with the current flowing through their non-human, circuit-veins. Yum. Haha.

Jason Sloan_Dec2019

3) How would you describe your writing and recording process? Has it evolved as you have gravitated to more structured pop sounds?

Jason: With L’Avenir the process is a bit different from how I might approach writing an instrumental ambient track. Primarily because ambient music is best if it has time to evolve and breathe so those tracks tend to be in excess of 15-20 min. That length just really wouldn’t work well in more of the traditional pop music context. Especially for radio and club DJs. When writing for L’Avenir, I’ll usually begin by writing a basic drum pattern or melody line and just build around that. Once it’s recorded, I write the lyrics and record the vocals. It’s both an additive and subtractive process from that point forward. The song’s are usually inspired by personal experiences as well as books, films, current events and sometimes surrealist or existential concepts and ideas.

Jason Sloan_new album_late 2021

4) I love how the L’Avenir aesthetic isn’t just about the music – it’s also about the presentation. From your album and EP release artwork to your music videos and website design and even your decision to put out a home video release on VHS(!), it’s clear you put a great deal of thought and craft into defining the L’Avenir experience for the listener. Would it be fair to say that this is just as important to you as the music itself?

Jason: Without a doubt. It’s probably pretty obvious but I’m a huge fan of Factory, 4AD, Mute, Situation Two, DoubleVision and so many of the early EU based independent labels from the 80’s. The designers and owners for those labels, Vaughn Oliver, Peter Saville, Daniel Miller, Tony Wilson, Ivo etc, were just as concerned with the visual presentation of the music as the sound itself. That philosophy always resonated with me. In the pre-internet days you obviously couldn’t go sample an LP on YouTube or wherever, so I was always buying LPs based upon the visual presentation, sleeve design and song titles. 95% of the time, even if I had not been familiar with the band up to that point, I could see/hear how the sonic aesthetic had informed the design as much as the design had informed the music. So when presenting L’Avenir, besides it being a tip of the hat to my personal inspirations, it’s very important both the music and design are informed by one another.

5) How do you feel about performing live versus making a record? Is there a particular vibe or feeling that you look to create with audience members who experience L’Avenir live?

Jason: Yes. First and foremost, I don’t want the live L’Avenir sound to mirror the records. I do play the album tracks live but I also want them to be slightly different. Sometimes faster, slower or a different arrangement all together… just something special for the audience. That’s just my personal philosophy for live music in general. But if a live performance sounds exactly the same as the record, why spend money to go see the show if there isn’t any difference besides volume? Again, just my personal philosophy. But that’s what I always loved about bands like Section 25, Sleep Chamber or even Cabaret Voltaire. You knew the songs, but they were always a bit different or just more raw. I’d say live, L’Avenir is a little more stripped down, but still maintains the spirit, atmosphere and mood of the LPs. When possible live, I love to create an almost ritual-like immersive atmosphere with low lighting, a fogger, incense and video projection. Total sensory immersion if you will.

Listen to and purchase L’Avenir’s music on Bandcamp. Check out L’Avenir’s website for more information about recordings, live performances and merch. Be sure to catch L’Avenir at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, May 6, 2022 at 10pm. Jake Reid from Secret Wilderness and Screen Vinyl Image is guest DJing.

May2022

6 Questions: Vivien Goldman

How does one even begin to describe the singular force of nature that is Vivien Goldman?

Vivien-Goldman_by-Alexesie-Pinnock-copy(photo by Alexesie Pinnock)

According to Pitchfork, “no one’s more punk than Vivien Goldman.” But “punk” hardly encompasses the scope of Goldman’s prodigious talents and contributions to pop culture.

Goldman, who was born in London, played a key role in helping Bob Marley achieve worldwide fame. As Marley’s PR maven, Goldman helped put Marley on the front pages of some of the most widely read music publications at a time when Jamaican music had yet to be embraced by the mainstream. Helping Marley with publicity, however, was just the start. Goldman’s love for Marley’s music and Jamaican culture runs deep. She has authored two books on Marley (including his first biography) and is a well-respected reggae scholar that has lectured on his work at NYU, Rutgers and other universities, earning her the nickname the “Punk Professor.”

Of course, reggae is just one of Goldman’s areas of expertise. The other is punk.

Punk culture has shaped Goldman’s life and worldview in unique ways. When punk broke, Goldman had a front row seat as one of the few female music journalists when the British music weeklies were dominated by men. Goldman documented the extraordinary changes in music that punk ushered in, particularly the newfound starring role that women musicians played.

In the late 70s and early 80s, a time when many U.K. musicians would turn to reggae for inspiration, Goldman shifted from occasional backing vocalist to front-and-center post-punk artist, first as a vocalist for The Flying Lizards, then making solo recordings with a litany of talented friends and artists, including John Lydon and Keith Levene from Public Image Limited, Vicky Spinall from The Raincoats, experimental musician Steve Beresford and legendary percussionist Robert Wyatt.

Her collected works from this period, along with her recordings from her Paris-based collective Chantage, were released in 2016 as part of the widely heralded “Resolutionary” collection on Staubgold.

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Goldman has become an unabashed champion of how punk offers a unique form of empowerment for women. Her 2019 book, “Revenge of the She Punks: A Feminist Music History from Poly Styrene to Pussy Riot,” blends interviews, history and Goldman’s personal experience to explore what makes punk so liberating for women. The book has received rave reviews and is a must read for anyone interested in feminism and punk culture.

The success of the “Resolutionary” compilation inspired Goldman to write more songs. In 2021, Vivien Goldman released her first full-length album, “Next Is Now,” produced by Youth of Killing Joke. Following its release, Goldman hit the road in support of the record. Last August, Goldman teamed up with DC duo Dunia & Aram for a special outdoor concert at Rhizome DC. It was an exhilarating experience.

Of course, audiences were left wanting more. And now the “Punk Professor” herself is back in DC for another show – this time at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant to help celebrate the 18th Anniversary of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, DC’s longest-running monthly underground music party. Usually, artists who perform at WFTBO are asked 5 questions for a blog interview. But Vivian Goldman is anything but usual, and with so much to talk about, we have asked her 6 questions. As you will see, Goldman has a lot to say about what drives her multi-disciplined creativity, what life was a like as one of the few female music journalists and how she became part of the post-punk scene herself as a performer who continues to add to an impressive legacy. Read on!

1) By any measure, your career and life experience is nothing short of extraordinary. You have distinguished yourself as a music journalist, PR maven, author, broadcaster, documentarian, pop cultural commentator, music video director, “punk professor” and of course, musician. What led you to be involved in so many different disciplines and aspects of pop culture?

Vivien: So kind of you to say so! My instinctive answer is that for almost all my working life I have been a freelancer! Trying like all freelancers to use my skill set as actively and productively as possible with whatever medium is happening at the time that coincides with said skill set, to get information through. It was exciting to become a musician in the late 1970s/early 1980s, having been writing about the scene — it was the friends I made as a writer who invited me to sing, really. Then, when I did start doing music as an artist more than as a reggae backup singer, which is how I started, looking back it was as described in my book, Revenge of the She-Punks; when my musical partner Eve Blouin had to change course for personal reasons, the music business was not a massively welcoming industry for someone as weird as myself, entering rather late in my thirties. It felt natural to gravitate to making television when I had the chance; the medium in the UK was starting to make space for indies, rather than just the BBC. And I had always intended to make films, really, when I was a student! Things changed again when I moved to America in the early 1990s, leading me to become a Professor; lecturing large classes gave me the confidence to go in front of an audience, having never performed when I was a post-punk artist back then. SO when my compilation Resolutionary became popular and people asked me to perform, the teaching made me ready!

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(photo by David Corio)

2) You started your writing career in 1975 – a time when there were very few female music journalists. What was it like for you as a woman to carve out a space for yourself in the industry at that time, especially as a woman with an interest in black music and Jamaican culture?

Vivien: I didn’t have much competition in the music press in terms of wanting to cover the “black music” scene, as it was then called in the UK. Most of the lads were interested in rock’n’roll, or maybe punk, more than reggae. Actually, there was a lot of gender-based conflict working on the paper where I wound up as Features Editor. Several of the lads really didn’t like having a female colleague pushing a somewhat different agenda, and were firmly convinced and invested in the idea that rock was a boystown and so it should remain. But the punk scene changed a lot of things, giving somewhat more of an opening than had been previously enjoyed by women in pop. The musicians in general were much more welcoming.

3) During the twin pop cultural tides of punk and post-punk, you lived in a flat in the neighborhood of Ladbroke Grove – a nexus for a lot of exciting activity. What was it like to be surrounded by so many creative friends and neighbors – from The Slits and John Lydon to Joe Strummer and Brian Eno – and to not only see the merging of punk and reggae, but document what was happening for the influential British music weeklies?

Vivien: It was West London’s Ladbroke Grove, around the famous Portobello Road, and it was a daily buzz to be part of such a creative community. That first punk/reggae axis was a small community. London was much more navigable then! There were squats and cheap housing available which is a big part of making a creative community.

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(cover of Vivien Goldman’s “Dirty Washing” EP, released in 1981 by 99 Records)

4) It wasn’t long before you started making music yourself – first with The Flying Lizards, then your own solo recordings. How did the “Dirty Washing” EP come about? And how did you manage to involve so many talented friends from John Lydon and Keith Levene to George Oban from Aswad, Vicky Aspinall from The Raincoats and even Robert Wyatt?

Vivien: The first singing I did was as a reggae backup singer with people like Neneh Cherry and the Slits’ Arri Up, for producer Adrian Sherwood. I was invited to join the Flying Lizards, who were really an avant-garde collective that collided with New Wave and early synth-pop, by the man I call King Lizard, David Cunningham. I can’t really remember how, but he heard me singing, and Deborah, who sang on the “Money” classic hit, had no interest in doing any more recording, so off we went. All the people on Launderette were my pals. George and I had made a cassette of the songs and I played them to the musicians, and they liked them, starting out with John Lydon who really helped me make the Dirty Washing 12″ on a practical level as well as co-producing..

5) In the early 80s, you moved to Paris and formed Chantage with Eve Blouin. What led you to leave London for Paris and what was it like to make music as Chantage during this time?

Vivien: Human reasons took me to Paris at the time, and it was a thrilling period, with Jack Lang as Minister of Culture there was a much-missed sese of artistic renaissance. Having been working with reggae in London and Jamaica, it was Paris that opened the world of African music to me, as it was all around. I was writing for the magazine Actual, and our editor/publisher was a champion of soukous and other sounds, steered by my partner in our duo Chantage, Eve Blouin. It was such a glorious optimistic moment with a sense of new beginnings. Every time I hear Many Dibango’s guitarist, Jerry Malekani, play on our Chantage record, it transports me back there.

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(cover of Vivien Goldman’s “Next Is Now” LP, released in 2021)

6) Fast forward to 2021, and you released your first full-length album “Next Is Now,” which was produced by Youth. What led you to make the album and what was it like working with Youth? Also, what was it like to go on tour and share your songs with live audiences after covering live shows as a music journalist for so many years?

Vivien: The popularity of my 2016 compilation Resolutionary led to my being asked to do shows. I had never done shows before. I didn’t have enough music to cover the length of the shows, and Youth, an old friend, suggested we record a couple more tunes which went so well, they led to the LP! It might have been much more challenging had I not been teaching for quite a few years now. Some of my classes were vast, bigger than a full club (not NYU, but other institutions.) That got me used to interacting with actual live people rather than a microphone in a studio.Going out on tour, or on stage, is still a fairly new experience for me and I am loving the engagement. Just to perform with my dear friends Dunia and Aram and sing the songs I love, turns out to be a joy.

Listen to and purchase Vivien Goldman’s Resolutionary compilation and Next Is Now album on Bandcamp. And check out Vivien Goldman’s website for more information about her amazing contributions as a writer, educator, broadcaster and musician. Be sure to listen to and purchase Dunia & Aram’s music on Bandcamp. Be on the lookout for their soon-to-be-released debut album. The WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE 18-Year Anniversary show is at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW) on Friday, April 1st at 10pm.

April2022

Preview: WFTBO Turns 18 with Special Show Featuring Post-Punk Icon Vivien Goldman

IMG_6143Legendary post-punk icon, renowned writer and celebrated musician Vivien Goldman will be performing a special live music set on Friday, April 1 at the Marx Café in Mt. Pleasant as part of the We Fought the Big One 18th Anniversary event.

Goldman, who began her writing career in the British rock press of the 1970s, has authored two books on Bob Marley, an award-winning book on female-led punk bands and contributed reviews, interviews and commentary to Rolling Stone, NME, The New York Times and many more. Goldman is also a long-time Adjunct Professor at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recording Music, earning her the unofficial title of “punk professor.”

As a musician, Goldman was a member of The Flying Lizards in the early 1980s, then recorded solo with members of PIL, The Raincoats, Aswad and Robert Wyatt – recordings that have achieved cult classic status and were included on the 2016 compilation album, “Resolutionary.” Goldman released her first full-length album, “Next Is Now,” in 2021 to great acclaim.

As with Goldman’s outdoor concert at Rhizome on Aug. 19, 2021, the April 1 show will see Goldman supported by Dunia & Aram, a DC-based duo who blend punk, reggae and jazz into their own unique sound. Dunia & Aram are getting ready to release their debut album this summer, which will include a cover of Goldman’s cult favorite “Launderette.”

Expect top tier DJ sets before and after the live music, with some surprise guests behind the turntables! There will also be a chance to win a Vivien Goldman LP!

The Marx Café will be offering Happy Hour prices on Chimay and Bitburger (from 10pm to 2am) while supplies last. There is no cover for the show, but donations are encouraged.

WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE started in 2004 to celebrate trailblazing artists like Vivien Goldman and The Flying Lizards from the Marx Café turntables. Goldman’s “Launderette” has remained a staple of the night over the past 18 years. To have the honor of hosting Vivien Goldman for an in-person live performance at WFTBO’s 18th Anniversary event is nothing short of surreal. We hope you will join us for this momentous occasion.

Listen to and purchase Vivien Goldman’s Resolutionary compilation and Next Is Now album on Bandcamp. And check out Vivien Goldman’s website for more information about her amazing contributions as a writer, educator, broadcaster and musician. Be sure to listen to and purchase Dunia & Aram’s music on Bandcamp. Be on the lookout for their soon-to-be-released debut album. The WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE 18-Year Anniversary show is at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW) on Friday, April 1st at 10pm.

April2022

5 Questions: Nice Breeze

It’s hard not to smile when listening to the snarling, saber-toothed guitars, stomping beats and off-kilter vocal yelps of NICE BREEZE.

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(Photo: Mike Maguire)

The DC-based trio of Andy Fox (vocals), John Howard (guitar, vocals) and Martha Hamilton (percussion) have been causing a ruckus since 2014 with a rambunctious sound that draws liberally from 90s American indie rock staples (Guided by Voices, early Pavement), The Fall, 60s garage rock and experimental music.

To date, NICE BREEZE has recorded three full-length albums (with a fourth on the way) and several EPs — each release dripping with the visceral joys of loud guitar, foot-stomping rhythms, and sudden twists and turns, along with plenty of sing-along moments (even if the singing in question is anything but conventional.)

We may be living in a global pandemic that’s been raging for more than two years, but things haven’t changed much lately for NICE BREEZE. When the world came to a standstill in spring 2020, the band released an amazing EP, “Abysm,” which contained two cracking originals and two covers. A third full-length album arrived the following year, and NICE BREEZE shows no signs of slowing.

With the band performing a special live set for the March 4, 2022 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, I got in touch with guitarist John Howard to learn more about what makes this ferocious, force-to-be-reckoned with band tick. Read on!

1) I think my favorite description of NICE BREEZE’s music is “a bargain-bin bare-bones Cramps bred on sugar-coated cereal and Altered Beast.” Haha. Putting aside how silly that statement is for a sec, I think it does capture the band’s proclivity for mining classic DIY sounds and sense of playfulness. As literary as NICE BREEZE is, do you ever feel that part of the band’s purpose is to simply remind people how much fun rock n roll can be?

John: I don’t know that we think of it that way, but if I am writing a guitar riff I want it to be memorable and I know Andy is always trying to come up with some catchy vocal riff. I think some of what you hear is that we are actually kinda pop in our way and not really so much of a “rock” band except for the loud guitars.

Nice Breeze 2748(Photo credit: Crescendo Studio)

2) I know that you have a background in improvisational and experimental music. When you guys are creating music for NICE BREEZE, how much of the process is premeditated and how much comes out of jamming to see what sticks?

John: Nice Breeze as a project has always been about giving space to the lyrics, the focus is more on songs and arrangements. So, definitely not improvised, but improv can’t help but seep into my playing. Its where I started as a player. I do like a lot of texture and noise and all of my guitar solos are improvised.

 

NICE BREEZE a1891538092_103) In May 2020, during the height of the pandemic, NICE BREEZE released the “Abysm” EP featuring two originals (“Just Becuz” and “Lou Says”) and two covers (“No More Heroes” by The Stranglers and “I Know Where Syd Barret Lives” by TVPs). The covers are inspired. The originals are amazing, especially “Lou Says” with the xylophone. How did this EP come about?

John: I love the Stranglers and I got obsessed with No More Heroes and forced the band to cover it. Right as we finished it, Dave Greenfield died of Covid. So it made us want to put it out and we built the EP from there. Andy suggested Syd Barrett and we already loved that song, we actually played it at the last show we played before COVID shut it all down. It seemed like a good one to soup up a bit so that it was a different kinda vibe. The original is like a shared secret, ours is more like a hymn. Lou Says was a loop I made and we built on that. Just Becuz was a new song at the time,

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4) Nearly a year later, NICE BREEZE returned with a full-length album, “Magician’s Rabbit.” Would it be fair to say that the pandemic hasn’t slowed your creativity?

John: It didn’t really affect us at all except for playing live. Honestly we are kinda casual about it. Its just what we do. Keep playing, keep recording, keep writing. Keep trying to do new stuff. We have about 2/3rds of a new record recorded right now.

5) You guys have been making music as a band since 2014 and before that in other projects. What keeps you coming back?

John: Its fun!!

Listen to and purchase Nice Breeze’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to ‘Like’ the band on Facebook. And be sure to check out the Nice Breeze show at the Friday, March 4, 2022 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in-person at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington DC). You can watch the show online via Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_NICEBREEZE. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

March22

5 Questions: Secret Wilderness

Under the nom de plume Secret Wilderness, DC multi-instrumentalist Jake Reid follows his creative muse wherever it takes him.

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For someone who has spent the better part of the last 25 years pushing the boundaries of blistering noise and pummeling beats (Alcian Blue, Screen Vinyl Image, Machine Drift), Jake is using his Secret Wilderness project to mark something of a departure.

Instead of squalling guitars and cavernous reverb, Secret Wilderness swims in more subtle psychedelic waters – the kind of floating, ethereal space music that one associates with Germany’s pioneering komische movement in the 70s and the 90’s U.K. ambient scene. Jake’s love of early Detroit Techno is still on display, but Secret Wilderness is less about the frenzied dance party, and more about the calm late night drive to destinations unknown.

In April 2021, Secret Wilderness released “The Endless,” a selection of tracks born out of impromptu jams that explore different moods. There is a stately, almost regal quality to the way Jake weaves together different sounds and textures to form these gorgeous compositions. The gentle synth patterns of “Cloud Forest” are especially evocative of the way clouds move in the sky, with plinking keys peaking through the chords like sparkles of sunshine. It’s a lovely piece.

As comfortable as Jake is making more abstract music with Secret Wilderness, rest assured he hasn’t abandoned his affinity for piercing, wall-of-sound shoegaze. 2021 marked the release of “The Collection” on Anathemata Editions, which compiles Alcian Blue’s CD-R EP releases across a double cassette package that includes liner notes by Oliver Ackerman (Skywave/A Place to Bury Strangers/Death by Audio). The tracks were lovingly remastered by Jake. These recordings have never sound better.

Maybe it’s no surprise then that Jake has been picking up his guitar more frequently lately? In fact, Jake has been finding solace in playing covers from his past bands and past favorites, and he’s performing a special show at the Friday, Feb. 4th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Zoom (register here). I got in touch with Jake to see what he’s been up to lately and learn more about his rekindled interest in the guitar. Read on!

1) When we last did an interview, Secret Wilderness had recently put out a gorgeous tape called “The Endless.” What have you been up to since then?

Jake: I didn’t work on a whole lot of music most of the summer. I hit a creative wall where I wasn’t feeling inspired to make anything and when I did I was being really critical of it. There’s a few projects I’ve worked on with others and a few I still have hanging around, I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things.

2) What’s it been like to pick up the guitar again after taking a break to explore electronics? Is it fair to say you’ve rediscovered your love of the instrument?

Jake: I got into skateboarding last year, like for the first time ever. That’s been a big part of the guitar catalyst, there’s something about riding a piece of wood across concrete and blasting Dinosaur Jr that go really well together, I got the itch again to start playing.

I started playing covers and that led to me recording some covers for fun. Some of it will never see the light of day and other stuff might get a release. Paul (Static Daydream) and I did a really rad cover of a Psychedelic Furs song, sort of a later catalog track that has a Phil Spector wall of sound vibe to it and I did a M83 cover recently I’m really happy with.

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3) Speaking of playing guitar again, what can you tell us about remastering the Alcian Blue catalog for the “Collection” release on Anathemata Editions last year? Was there anything that surprised you about those recordings when you revisited them?

Jake: This project was a long time in the making. Sean Grey and Terrence Hannum had talked to us about this a few years back but it took Sam and I a long time to source some of the material. The masters from Years Too Late were way over-compressed. Sam had to find the old PC we recorded the songs on and fire it up and we found old final mixes of songs pre-mastering and we were able to re-master those to how we thought they should sound.

The mastering process was fun, I’m glad it took us a while because I re-visited some of the masters a few times in order to push myself to make them sound as good as they could. It wasn’t until I had to do the artwork that the memories really flooded in. Alcian Blue was formed from 4 friends that went to high school together with a mutual love of similar music and it grew from there to Kim joining, our sound developing, and our ability to play beyond DC. I’m thankful Terrence wanted to do this and pushed us to do it, as he put it, we have this document of what we did.

4) Does working on the mixing and mastering side of things scratch an itch for you that writing doesn’t?

Jake: Mastering is a lot of fun and I know what I need to do to get the work done where writing is always a longer process. Mastering is 50% technical and 50% creative in a way that’s hard to explain. The best part is I either get to work on stuff I don’t know and always get surprised or, I get to work on my friend’s material which is always a treat. Last year Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor sent me their new album to master. I put it on and was just floored by how incredible that album is. I’ve known them since they first started and being able to hear their progression to such a “firing on all cylinders” psych band is so exciting. I love mixing but I’m only ok at it which is great because it means I’m always learning and being challenged. It’s easier to mix other people’s stuff than my own, I’m my own worse critic haha.

5) Have you always been interested in covers? Or is that more of a recent thing? Can you give us a tease about some of what we’ll be hearing at the WFTBO Livestream show?

Jake: Covers are a great way to learn songwriting and different ways to approach playing over what you already know. I learned to play guitar by sitting in front of my stereo and played along to Jesus & Mary Chain songs and Cure songs. My first show ever was playing this very 90’s coffee shop in College Park called PLANET X, it was like right out of So I Married An Axe Murderer, gigantic latte mugs and everything. I played Jesus & Mary Chain songs and Velvet Underground songs, Matt played bass and Clark played bongos haha. When Alcian Blue was called “Wintermute” we’d play house shows and do Blur’s “Song 2” and The Verve’s “Rolling People” before we moved onto doing The Cure and a personal fave, Slowdive’s “Joy.” And in Screen Vinyl Image, we’d cover The Stooges, Slowdive, and Ride.

Without listing song titles I’ll be playing Damien Jurado, The Bats, Skywave, Ride, and Slowdive as well as some Alcian Blue and Screen Vinyl Image tonight.

Listen to and purchase Secret Wilderness’ music on Bandcamp. Be sure to visit the Secret Wilderness website and the Ice Station Studio website. And be sure to check out Secret Wilderness’ online show at the Friday, February 4th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_SECRET. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

February4

5 Questions: Requiem

How does one even begin to describe the indescribable sound and vision that is Requiem?

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If you were fortunate enough to catch one of the two in-person performances at Rhizome in the fall of 2021, you know why I’m asking this question. On the one hand, I could tell you that DC musicians Tristan Welch (guitar, electronics) and Doug Kallmeyer (bass, electronics, production) anchor Requiem’s sound in gorgeous ambient textures and drones — drifting in and out of sonic boundaries seamlessly, veering from moments of sustained dread to awe-inspiring beauty. But that’s just part of what’s going on here.

As you can see from the above screen grab (taken from Requiem’s 11-09-21 performance at Rhizome), visual artist Monica Stroik draws a connection between the group’s sound and the boundlessness of natural phenomena — from deep sea images of colorful fishes and floating jelly fish to sweeping vistas of clouds in motion at sunset. At certain moments, the images move in a 360 degree, circular fashion. It’s almost as if Requiem wants us all to play God for a while.

To put it simply: Requiem’s art is only PARTLY about music. It’s about a total immersive experience — one that invites us to engage with the natural phenomena the project is celebrating.

The considerable talents of Welsh and Kallmeyer are tailor-made for this project — the former known for his acclaimed DIY ambient/drone releases and relentless DIY work ethic, and the latter for his extensive experience (and impressive CV) as an audio engineer and frequent music collaborator, not to mention his connections as a label head for Versus Records.

Outside of local shows, Requiem exists as a truly international project, with connections around the globe, mostly notably in the U.K., with cellist Simon McCorry. The trio of Welsh, Kallmeyer and McCorry have made two albums together and recently recorded a third.

While we wait for the next album to be released later in 2022, Welsh and Kallmeyer are continuing to play local shows, accompanied by the stunning visual art of Stroik. Lucky for us, Requiem is playing the Jan. 7th Livestream edition of We Fought the Big One. I got in touch with Tristan and Doug to learn more about this intriguing project of theirs…

1) Doug and Tristan – how did your involvement with the Requiem project come about? I know that outside of performing live in the local DC area, the project also includes the U.K.-based cellist Simon McCorry and other collaborators. What has it been like to work with Simon as well as each other?

Tristan: Doug and I have been working together for a little bit. Just musical friends really – we were doing our own thing but hanging out and making music together… which truthfully is not something I’m ever much interested in doing so obviously our chemistry was good. We have always been talking about how to release and present music – what’s important to us and what’s not. One night we were recording some of our sessions and kind of got into the idea of immediacy or maybe “honest music” is the better term. Just releasing music we had made without much editing, revamping or thinking. We put out a bunch of singles and to our surprise people seemed to like it. Simon is someone Doug had connected with through Verses Records and I’m thrilled he thought what we were doing was cool and agreed to record with us. The process with Simon is similar to what we’re doing (Doug and I) – focused on immediacy and feeling – we just happen to be doing it from across the ocean and we’ve ended up with two albums of material together.

Doug: Tristan and I met through the local DC arts community. We have shared shows, and worked on each other’s music and in various projects together over the past 4 years. We both wanted to do a project that would just be honest, spontaneous experiences and not get caught up in production aspects, the weight of making “product”. This approach makes a broader collaboration process simple. We send out a track, we get a track in response, and we do as little as possible to make it all work. This has allowed us to have two releases so far with Simon, who is based in the UK. I met him through running the Verses Records label, which Tristan has also released work on, so we reached out and began trading tracks. We all share full confidence in each others’ abilities. All the released music is one take per musician, a quick balance, and it’s finished. We are happy with the amount of acceptable material that has resulted. The upcoming release for Rusted Tone Recordings will be a bit more involved. We will be joined by Simon again, as well as Meg Mulhearn (Asheville, NC.) on violin and electronics, and Dmala Bozkurt (Istanbul, Turkey) on violin.

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2) I find that I am filled with many different emotions and feelings when I listen to Requiem’s music. There’s an unmistakable melancholy, but also feelings of dread and even anger (especially the track “Public; Domain” from Joy; Division). At the same time, I find Requiem’s music to be strangely uplifting and beautiful. Is there a particular emotion or feeling you are aiming for? 

Doug: It would seem by your reaction, the approach has imparted an honesty to the music that we were hoping for. The goal is to capture a full performance for each piece, so there is an underlying string of emotion from each player that is not broken.

Tristan: I think Doug and I have similar states of being. I think we are both discontent with the world around us but we are both naturally “happy” people. I think that could explain how the sounds can be grim, dark or brooding – but still have beauty, light and uplifting traits. I think it’s a tug of war between letting the world tear us apart but still trying to exist peacefully. We’re using music to express ourselves – it’s a conversation with sound. The world sucks and it’s full of pain but these sounds make it all feel a little better. We don’t ever really talk about how a piece should sound when it comes to an emotion – we might talk about things in a very musical sense – but never in an emotional sense. I think the music is a true representation of humans being pulled into directions they never intended to be pulled in.

20210523-3904 copy(Photo of Monica Stroik by Cameron Whitman)

3) Anyone who witnessed one of the Requiem live shows at Rhizome in DC this past fall would attest that visuals play a huge part in the Requiem live experience. How did you end up collaborating with Monica Stroik? What can you tell us about her incredible contributions to the project?

Tristran: I think Doug’s portion of this will be much better than mine – but I want to say when it comes to collaborating with Doug and Monica I truly just feel like I’m along for the ride. They have been doing projects under various names for a long time – honestly I’m just a fan. Currently they have something in the works called Oms. I want nothing more than for everyone to experience it. I don’t understand the technical side of the visuals really… but I know we’ll all sit around and talk about titles and themes – Monica will offer her input in the themes and general ideas – then kind of take it from there. We’re still working on various ways to completely make the audio/visual collaboration much more than a “show” and a total immersive experience. One thing we all like are big, expansive and overwhelming works of art. Monica creates giant paintings and does large scale projections, Doug and I love large expansive sounds.

Doug: Monica is also part of the Verses Records crew, is a visual artist and has been involved in video arts for over a decade. She has worked with many bands and galleries, doing installs and live performance pieces. She received an MFA from MICA in 2013, a large portion of the thesis being video mapping and animation.

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(Photo of Doug Kallmeyer by Cameron Whitman)

4) I understand that the Requiem project is currently recording with Simon McCorry, Meg Mulhearn (violin, electronics, modular synthesis, Asheville NC), and Damla Bozkurt (violin, Istanbul Turkey) for a 2022 release. How are the recordings going so far? What can you tell us about this new release?

Doug: The recording process is completed for this release. The more people involved remotely, the longer things can take (especially when the involved musicians are as prolific as the three mentioned!). One interesting aspect of this process is the order of who got what tracks, and when. Whenever anyone did something, it would be added to the initial take and sent out. So, there was no particular order, and the collaborators involved would often track simultaneously without being aware of each other’s contribution. This has resulted in some incredibly interesting moments, and some challenging. Unlike previous works, this is taking one extra step as there has to be some decisions made on what to use. There is also a very interesting thing happening with tonality and structure- for example, Damla doesn’t hear music in the given “western European” format, as her cultural background is completely different. So note choices are different, phrasing is different. Sometimes though, it’s as if there was a score written, the way the strings end up blending. We are very excited to share this, via Rusted Tone Recordings (UK) this year. There is more extreme dynamics and structure (by happenstance). It is nearly completed, sonically. Once done, we will give it to Monica for possible visual interpretations. 

Tristan: The new release is coming along. It’s going to be a bit different than the others. A little more “produced”. As many know – or if they don’t they should – Doug has had a long and successful career in sound. On this record there’s going to be a bit more using the sound board as an instrument. Which will be really cool with extra collaborators. We’re very excited to have a record with a diverse and dynamic group of collaborators. We’re mixing the record right now – but once again in my mind that’s still writing the record in a sense. I’m excited for it though.

20210523-3569(1)(Photo of Tristan Welch by Cameron Whitman)

5) As we do this interview, it’s January 2022 and the world has been brought to its knees by yet another COVID-19 variant and we are about to mark the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the Capitol. It’s a dark time in many ways. What – if anything – gives you hope for the future?

Doug: These last few years have offered all of us one thing we were in scarce supply of- time to think. People are tired of being tied to the wheel, and we see it and hear it in all the necessary movements and reactions, the massive changes and expanded awareness we have seen in a short time. While the systems we are used to will resist these changes, they will have to accept them or fail. This gives hope.

Tristan: I’m writing this on January 6th, 2022. I honestly think I’m exactly where the government wants me. I’m hardly holding my head above water and have a hard time even understanding what the fuck is happening. I’m holding on for dear life to prop up shit that I wish would fall apart. I’m suffocating to maintain some sense of comfort. I know I have it much better than others and I’m grateful for that. My hope is that maybe, just maybe, music and art can be a uniting force for everyone that suffers in different ways and bring us together.

Listen to and purchase Requiem’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to visit Doug Kallmeyer’s website and Requiem’s page and Monica Stroik’s page on the Versus Records website. And be sure to check out Requiem’s online show at the Friday, January 7th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_REQUIEM. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

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