I’ve interviewed Sam Grawebefore, he’s the perfect fit for ISO50 in my mind, his slow motion synth work as Hatchback meets the Editor In Chief of Dwell Magazine.
ISO50 Just listened thru your new record Zeus & Apollo a third time, whats in the water in SF? you synth guys make it sound effortless, people don’t see how much a handful of you well put together 30 year old men (The Beat Broker, Sorcerer, etc) are changing the face of Adult Contemporary in the background into this finely widdled down masterpiece of a genre, can you explain yourself?
SGI think we’re just trying to make music that we would like to hear ourselves. I’m not really a part of any music scene out here per se—especially since moving north to Marin—so its all about making something that you would yourself want to listen to. We all work for a living, with wives and kids and mortgages and that kind of business, so all that helps you maintain a low profile. Last but not least, I’m not really ashamed of the fact that most of the music I listen to is from 1982 or earlier. I’m not saying that to prove how cool I am, but in fact the opposite. There’s a different attitude with music of that era, much less of a developed sense of irony—like, you couldn’t possibly put a sax solo on a track now, or sing about sailing—and I think its freeing just to get into music that comes from an honest place.
ISO50 You go from Editor of Dwell Magazine back home and do Hatchback, the emotion in the music is calming, your even comfortable with calling it New Age, can you explain how you keep yourself composed? because i’d be an anxious mess of excitement if I was in your position(job wise), i’m asking that because I respect you and your projects and most importantly your tone always seems to be relaxed, do you ever freak out over there on the west coast?
SGI think I release all my anxiety in my dreams. Every night while I sleep I pass through these incredible vignettes of stress—stressful situations spawning even more stressful situations, like trying to find your flight information before you realize you’ve lost your passport only to end up in a car that is skidding around like its on ice—so when I wake up, I am actually relieved to be where I am, and feel pretty good. So, that being said, I don’t really make mellow music to somehow unwind.
I’ve always liked “new age” music, so I don’t really have a problem with labeling it that—new age without shame! It’s much better than “Balearic,” which is a scene I have absolutely no connection to whatsoever. I remember listening to Music From The Hearts of Space (http://www.hos.com/) on Vermont public radio when I was a kid, and my mom had some George Winston and Enya and Windham Hill type of stuff that I would put on. As I got older and started buying a lot of old records, the new age bin was always the place where you would find the rad imports and synth records that the clerks had no idea where else to file. Even at Amoeba in San Francisco you used to be able to get the coolest records for $1 in the new age bin.
ISO50 What do you not like about New Age when you hear it done by others?
ISO50 Can you explain the Dream Chimney community? how did you get involved? what makes you keeping coming back and contributing on there?
SGI kind of come and go with posting tracks, but I’m a daily lurker. I’m usually just too busy to take the 20 minutes to sort out a post, and I haven’t had the energy to rip vinyl in a long time, but I feel a strong connection to the site, so it’s hard not to check in a couple of times a day just out of habit. Long before the word blog even existed there was The Dream Chimney, and it was so cool to get exposed to all kind of different music from all these great music dudes and friends. Back in the day it was largely made up of folks I knew from the music scene in SF, so it was like the place you all hung out during the day before you might see each other at a show later that night. If you were lucky maybe you would get schooled on some crazy synthy progfolk or CTI style beard jazz. There’s an element of humor to it that some people don’t necessarily pinpoint, like in the genre labels or the tags, that never really gets old to me.
ISO50 Can you suggest a Prefab home at an affordable price that you’d live in for more than 10 years?
SGKeep dreaming. But I did see this protohome just yesterday, and was fairly impressed.
ISO50 I noticed the percussion on the new album is almost non existent especially compared to your last record Colors Of The Sun, was that a conscious effort from the start?
SGYeah, it really was. I think after the Hatchback and Windsurf albums came out I was glad that some people were into it, but it was also strange to get lumped into this cosmic disco nu-balearica movement and to get criticized for somehow hopping on a bandwagon you never even knew existed. So I started making tracks that were more ambient or new age thinking that it would be more fun for me, and wouldn’t have anything to do with what was going on in the music world. I had had this idea of a new age “band” called Zeus & Apollo kicking around so I just went for it, fairly consciously thinking of it all as a whole package. Honestly this is closer to my default setting. As much as I love funk, jazz, funky jazz, etc. when I sit down to play at a piano or electric piano, this is the kind of stuff that naturally comes out. Also when it comes to programming drums I usually think what I do sounds pretty horrible, and its really tiresome, so this was a bit of an easy way out.
ISO50 Something your fans might not know about you?
SGI have other fans.
ISO50 Dream gig (location, mood, pick a show opener or closer) and how important is it to you to have a live show? what would want your fans to see on stage for those 45 minutes if the sky was the limit?
SGi’ve been dreaming of doing a show in a planetarium. I’ve always been obsessed with a sort of total immersion entertainment—like an audio visual version of the Audium here in San Francisco; or actually a musical version of the tech in Brainstorm would be better yet.
But to really dream big, I think the most amazing place to play would be at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. It was designed by Marcel Breuer, and is quite simply, an amazing and inspiring piece of architecture. I love me some brutalist concrete.
ISO50 Do you collect anything other than music gear?
SGI have quite a few pieces by the Finnish designer Tapio Wirkkala. He was a total renaissance man—with one foot in the modern world and the other in primordial nature.
ISO50 Favorite newer band you’ve heard?
SGI really like the last two albums by The Alps—III and Le Voyage. I also like this guy Rob, who released the best two albums of the 2000s that no one heard (Don’t Kill and Satyred Love). He’s released five or six of these mini Dodécalogue eps, which are stunning. The only problem with Rob is that he’s impossible to google. My favorite new music of the last few years is probably 9dw. We became friends after doing a couple remixes for them and even did a short tour together in Japan in 2009.
ISO50 If you weren’t working with music or Dwell, where would you work?
SGA Vietnamese restaurant.
ISO50 Who would you want to take out of hiding and sit in the studio with,
even if it was just for one song?
SGI’d love to have Vangelis and his CS80 pop by for an afternoon. But I think I’d be pretty embarrassed by my shabby rig. My other greek option would be Iasos!
ISO50 Share a childhood memory that might relate to your new album?
SGOne of the lamest things about living in San Francisco is that is so damn cold every single day of the year. Bye bye short sleeves. I grew up on the east coast, in Virginia, and even though it was muggy and crazy hot during the day, there’s nothing more pleasant that sitting outside in the evening and feeling that residual heat burn off in the night air. Hotaru, the fifth track on the record, is Japanese for firefly, and was inspired by a kawabata book I was reading and catching fireflies. There’s something really beautiful about fireflies—not only the iridescence, but also how they all start on the ground while its still pretty light out, but as it gets dark the float higher and higher into the trees; there’s this kind of gentle rising and dispersion, and then they’re gone. So sitting outside on the deck in Virginia, sipping on a cool drink, watching the fireflies. I think Hotaru would be a nice soundtrack for reliving that moment.
This is the first in a new series of interviews where one artist interviews another, five questions each. I’ve been on the road with School Of Seven Bells, hearing their daily interviews, and I’ve noticed too many similar questions keep coming up again and again. I’m hoping that the artist/artist format can give readers a better idea of what’s on the artist’s minds. I’ve also asked each artist to two songs which they’ve been listening to, all of which are posted above.
ISO50: Your new album Maniac Meat has some balls to it, i’m definitely a fan. What made you go gradually harsher and expand your sound from previous albums and projects? TOBACCO: That’s been in there for awhile, but i used to care about not freaking people out too badly. i think sometime last year while i was on tour with black moth, i realized i was tired of all the safe music i had written for that band, and how much fun i could be having just letting all the wild shit out instead of suppressing it.
ISO50: I remember when I heard your project Black Moth Super Rainbow for the first time at the Ghostly office years ago and “I Think It Is Beautiful That You Are 256 Colors Too” came on I knew I was going to enjoy the record, is this a sound that you’ve wanted to make since you were younger? any nostalgia tied to it? if so is there a story you can share? TOBACCO: I feel now like all that old stuff was all i could do at the time. so i can’t say i was ever striving to make music like that, but more like that music was striving for something more. i made that song so long ago that the only real memory i have of it was it was my first or 2nd song completely made on a sampler. that was definitely a fun time.
ISO50: I always wanted to let you know that you have great track names (Sweatmother, Hairy Candy, New Juices From The Hot Tub Freaks, etc) compared to most musicians, anyone help you with those? how do they come about? TOBACCO: Especially with this record, i came up with most of them while running to the songs at the gym or around my neighborhood. i’m usually just trying to describe the way they sound to me, rather than what they might be about – which is usually nothing too concrete to begin with.
ISO50: How did the Beck collab happen? since you went so big is there another artist you’d want to work with in the future? TOBACCO: We asked and beck was awesome enough to say yes. it all just happened through email. you know it’s hard to say now because all 2 people on my list have been checked off, but i think at this point it would be awesome to start a band with someone like beck or aesop and really get in there and see what we could do. i’m remaking someone’s record this summer and that’ll end up being the biggest collaborative effort i’ve ever been involved with, so i’m pretty invested in that. it’s someone i never would have predicted working with, and that kind of stuff can be even crazier because it twists you in ways you weren’t expecting to go.
ISO50: For Maniac Meat, do you have a full band live? hows that setup? do you bring any synths with you? TOBACCO: It’s always 2 of us, sometimes 3. it can be anything from a weird dj/vj show to a minimal band with a sequenced beat, depending on who’s there. on the september tour, we’re gonna try something new and have more people involved for a few songs. we do bring 1 synth around with us.
ISO50: Who does your album covers? TOBACCO: I’ve done all the album covers. for me, that’s just as important as what’s inside.
ISO50: Something your fans might not know about you? TOBACCO: I don’t like most of the music i get lumped in with. if you give me your cd and tell me it’s all vocoder and synths, i might not listen to it, but if you tell me you sound like Scott Weiland I might be down!
ISO50: Dream gig (location, mood, show opener or closer)? TOBACCO: I dream of the day live shows become all digital like everything else, and we can stay at home, and just be projected like a hologram or something.
ISO50: Do you collect anything? TOBACCO: Madballs. there are only like 12 of them, so if you space it out, it’s the most eco thing you can get into collecting.
ISO50: Favorite new band you’ve heard? TOBACCO: He’s not a band, but Serengeti is the man
ISO50: If you weren’t working with music, where would you work? TOBACCO: Any pizza shop
ISO50: Share a childhood memory that might relate to your music? TOBACCO: Baby stinky was a gross baby puppet that this f*ckjob at the flea market was selling, and i wasn’t allowed to have it because it was too sick. for all these years, i put it up on a pedestal of being the ultimate taboo toy that i could never have because it was way too disturbing for my family back in 1992. i finally found an original one a few years back at a costume store and it was definitely gross, but more awesome-gross than disturbing-gross. and that’s because it was from that time. i think that kind of describes some of my musical ideas, or my album covers. yesterday’s sick shit that becomes today’s art. or something like art.
catalogtree is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Amsterdam. Their work is instantly recognizable for its complexity and exceptional clarity; a combination not easily achieved. Their ability to compress large amounts of data into these gorgeous infographics is unparalleled. Joris Maltha and Daniel Gross are the designers behind catalogtree and I had the pleasure to ask them a few questions before I left for Tokyo. Their answers and some example work after the jump.
What were your goals when you initially set up shop?
We never really set up shop and in a way this is our goal. To not have a shop and be amateurs at what we do. Right now we’re working on a 232 meter long radio antenna and are building a crystal radio to receive a local pirate station. We have never done this before and have no idea if this project will succeed.
About a month ago I got to see Chaz Bundick play as his solo act Toro Y Moi, I sent it to Scott and we’ve been both hooked to his new album Causers Of This ever since. Below is a few question I asked him about everything from his blog which seems to have shrunk a bit since I was last there to what he’d be doing if he wasn’t doing music.
ISO50: First, your new album “Causers Of This” that just came out will be in our best of 2010 without a doubt but I read that you’ll be releasing 2 records this year, is this true? If so, can we expect more of this loveliness style wise?
TYM: Yeah, the plan is to do two records. This one is going to sound more songwriter based and non-electronic. The goal we’re shooting for is to have it out by August…
ISO50: I went to your blog, you have some great photos, can you tell us a little bit about them and what people are seeing on your blog? Is it a bit of the initimate and fun side of you?
TYM: Thanks. A lot of the photos are of my friends. It’s fun, I love taking pictures of people but I’m getting more into more inanimate photos and odd still lifes.
ISO50: Your from South Carolina[i've never been there] and I see that your pretty fashionable for a guy (I admire a good pair of eyewear), is there something that the rest of the world doesn’t know about South Carolina in music and the young people? Does the clothing world at all interest you? Any good thrifting there?
TYM: Well, i had to say one thing, it’s be that, us, south carolinians don’t all live in the backwoods. The thrifting is great down here. But, really a lot of trends, whether it be fashion, music, or art, spreads majorly because of internet theses days.
ISO50: I saw you play live in Brooklyn, you really look like you have a ton of fun on stage like a natural, does that come from anything like an old band or performing before?
TYM: I’ve played in bands since i was 15. I’m just getting use to being on stage by myself, but i’m willing to be embarassed and learn from my mistakes…
ISO50: Would you share any advice on production techniques and what synths you use or dream of owning?
TYM: hmmmm, proly stay away from direct lines when recording, sounds gross and flat. a dream synth? anything from Realistic.
ISO50: To put it bluntly, I hear “heavy melodic avant pop” early Max Tundra meets “I wanna make people move” 50′s and 80′s pop in the best way possible when I hear your music, can you share what records shaped your sound?
TYM: Most likely Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Donuts by J Dilla.
5 quick questions:
ISO50: Something your fans might not know about you: I dont shower often.
ISO50: Dream gig (location, mood, show opener or closer): SNL and zach galifianakis as the host.
ISO50: Favorite new band you’ve heard: Cloud Nothings
ISO50: If you weren’t doing music, where would you like to work: DDEESSIIGGNN
ISO50: Share a childhood memory that might relate to your music: Seeing my dad dressed in heavy winter clothing.
Thom Yorke remix of Doom? sounds great right? well it is, I do love Doom over some big strings and dusty kicks or movie and TV soundtracks but this remix is a nice get away with a fitting haunted feel.
I haven’t heard anything as exact as DillaDonuts than this Jay Electronica cut but I also don’t listen to much hip hop besides dipping back in more J Dilla or Stones Throw signings. A really hype track, i’m not putting it down at all, i’ve had it on repeat all week.
You may recognize the name Jogger from Daedelus’Friends Of Friends label or his random appears on labes like Mush or Ninja Tune but I just found him thru Eliot Lipp and Leo123′s side project Dark Party, i’ve never heard the original but if its anything like this remix then i’m in love.
I downloaded this really funny exclusive 10+ minute interview of Mux Mool on Percussion Lab, he talks about his upcoming album, what he samples, how he spends his downtime, and his drawings that you can find on his Flickr, some of this is pretty NSFW.
Create Digital Music has posted an excellent interview with Paul Frindle. Frindle was one of the people at the center of the digital revolution in audio recording; he worked on SSL G-Series Console, was “part of the team that broke the “damnable black art” of digital conversion”, founded Oxford Digital (whose EQ plugin I still use extensively), and developed the application the Sony OXF-R3 Console. It’s a pretty technical article but it highlights how creativity and genius can combine to fundamentally change an art form.
Some producers and musicians these days lament the shift to digital saying that analog will always be better than digital. I tend to agree with that statement — particularly when it comes to synthesis — but the move to digital has made the process of production so much more efficient and accessible that it’s hard to argue against it. Digital audio has opened the doors of the music industry to anyone with a computer and made artists of people who might not have had access otherwise. Although I have spent many years trying to shift my process into the analog domain, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get a start in music if it weren’t for the ability to record digitally.
So here’s to Paul Frindle and everyone like him who paved the way for a revolution in music, because whether we’re making music or enjoying it, we all owe these pioneers a debt of gratitude.
Late last year I had to pleasure of interviewing Danny, Marieke and Erwin of Experimental Jetset. Founded in 1997 and based in Amsterdam, Experimental Jetset is one of the most exciting and highly regarded studios working today. They create exceptionally beautiful work; immediately recognizable for its top notch quality and unique remixing of modernist principles and stylings. Their global renown continues to soar– most recently thanks to their part in Helvetica and the extreme popularity of their (now re-released) John&Paul&Ringo&George shirts.
A quick perusal of their website can easily turn into hours as you browse through their catalog of work and read their comprehensive descriptions of each project. In these descriptions, and especially in interviews, the depth of their reflection is astounding. They take great care to consider every perspective — whether it be a report of one of their own projects, or an answer to a seemingly basic interview prompt — their ability to discuss Design and work is as remarkable as it is fascinating. What follows is our discussion from November 2009. Enjoy!