Monday, June 20, 2011

Non-N.E. Luminaries #1- Jamie Stewart (XIU XIU)

This post is the first in what will become a longer-running line of interviews with crucial figures from outside of New England. For this, the first Non-New England Luminary feature, we proudly present an interview with the one and only Jamie Stewart of West Coast legends Xiu Xiu:

Photo taken by Jamie Stewart for Evening of Light

EOL: It's been over a year since 'Dear God I Hate Myself' was released. I see on the Xiu Xiu site that a new album is in the works. What can we expect from this record?

Jamie: It's too early to give it away! It won't be out until next year so. A little winking first, a little kiss on the ear...

EOL: Xiu Xiu, for the majority of its existence, has been largely a two piece outfit. How has the recent addition of Zac Pennington (Parenthetical Girls) and Sam Mickens (The Dead Science) been changing things? They're both very interesting songwriters in their own rights and have really individual approaches to song-craft. I'm curious if their visions have been interweaving with yours and, if so, how they're blending, or if they're primarily helping to flesh out the live sound and arrangements of your newest stuff?

Jamie: We are all writing songs, as is Angela Seo. It's really exciting for me to be able to add to something they have come up with and of course to have them add to something I have written. For the first time in Xiu Xiu there are 4 lyricists. We all have known each other for such a long time though that we have, I think, a clear grasp of what works for us to write about for each other. We are also all singing.

EOL: You have said before that your records are hugely informed emotionally by the recent happenings in your life, that: "If it is a year that is entirely filled with hilarious things, then it will just be hilarious. I hope the next record will be hilarious, but if it is a year that’s entirely filled with doom, then it will be doom-filled." If it's still too early to answer my first question regarding the new Xiu Xiu record, do you have any sort of internal psychological barometer reading that points toward a 'hilarious' record or 'doomy' record yet?

Jamie: This year has been so mixed. The songs are about reflecting on a truly horrible time when Zac, Sam and I lived together in a house in Seattle called "Clowne Towne", about the sport murder of Gul Mudin by the US military, incest, pro wrestling, embracing and trying to find some company in the dark side of one's existence. The factory labor of asian women in China, Haiti and the idea of suffering, suicide attempts, divorce, abortion, being beaten up by jocks and the aforementioned loneliness. Oh, i guess that is not so mixed really.

EOL: In my mind, part of what makes your work in Xiu Xiu so distinct is the way you so freely combine noise and melody. I've always wondered where this inclination in your music comes from. You're a fan of Morrissey, Bauhaus, and Queen, and you've covered Nick Cave's 'Jack The Ripper' before, but who or what inspires you to work with jarring textures and noise?
Jamie: Are you asking what noise and experimental people I like? Prurient, Blind Cave Salamander, Merzbow, Burning Star Core, Yellow Swans, White House, Infinite Body are my favorites. Modern classical composers like Penderecki and George Crumb make more dissonance with acoustic instruments than anything possible with electronics. Certain South East Asian vocal oriented musics sound, to someone who has grown up listening to western music, incredibly dissonant and harsh, but they still are only voice and maybe very minimal percussion. But probably more than anything would be animal sounds, frogs, red deer, hyena, certain bird songs like the Capuchin bird, insect sounds. These are the most noisy and beautiful to me.

EOL: I've read that you have a lot of background in experimenting with sound, outside of songwriting...

Before I was a songwriter I was mostly an engineer. I spent much more time making odd sounds and experimenting with early digital recording than I did working on trying to say something narrative. Early on I played around a lot with slowing sounds down and stacking sounds to make something I had not heard before. Not saying it had not been done, but just new to my ears. I love this about music. Making new sounds is incredibly fulfilling and meaningful to my little musical heart.

EOL: When you say 'I was mostly an engineer', do you mean it in the traditional sense where you would have been working in studios as a producer's assistant or do you mean it more in an informal sense ('Sonic' engineer, sound-tinkerer?.)  

Jamie: Probably somewhere in between. I recorded a bunch a bands and had a little home studio and worked at a college radio station recording live bands for on air broadcast, but I spent as much time by myself plugging the wrong box on the wrong box and turning the knobs all the way up. Since I started I have generally been inspired by a sound first and then by harmony and melody.

EOL: Do you have any early and secret noise recordings locked away in the Jamie Stewart vault?

Jamie: We have something like 50 releases. Does it seem like I keep anything secret?

EOL: In further exploration of the tonality/atonality issue, are you naturally inclined towards establishing some beautiful functional structure and then sonically destroying/eroding it OR is this something you arrive at incidentally out of multiple interests? Songs like 'Sad Pony Guerilla Girl', for instance, seem to destroy themselves even as you listen to them. Still other songs have very subtle infusions of noise that seem to corrode or wear away at the edges of the tracks themselves (something I've always loved very much.)

Thank you. There is no separation between the two. It is not as if we write a pop song and then go about wrecking it just on principle. Noise and beauty are both equally wonderful to me and they both elicit emotion in different but, I think, complimentary ways.

EOL: How does it feel to have nearly ten years of work in Xiu Xiu under your belt? Are you beginning to feel even remotely accomplished/legendary/majestic or does your self-loathing cancel all that out?

Jamie: When I am standing on the edge of a granite precipice, wearing an orange velvet cape, a scepter and orb in my hands, looking over the horizon flinging thousands of copies of the Xiu Xiu catalogue into the misty abyss below, only then do I feel majestic. Otherwise, I feel like a loser and am constantly worried I have no idea what the fuck I am doing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

INTERVIEW #2: Gem Club (MA)

#####Gem Club is one of the East Coast's most melodic and achingly beautiful best-kept secrets. For as long as I've known their music I have been absolutely perplexed by their near-total obscurity on the New England scene. The Boston duo, made up of vocalist/pianist Christopher Barnes and cellist/vocalist Krysten Drymala, write fantastically breathtaking songs that seem to scream for widespread attention but continue to elicit only cult following in the states. Certain factions in Europe have been more attentive to Barnes' & Drymala's work (NoFearofPop's editors placed the pair's release Acid & Everything in their Best of 2010 year-ends, and Delicious Scopitone was an avid supporter of the group early on) but the overall response remains relatively hushed in comparison to the group's obvious merits. Perhaps Gem Club's music is too hushed, even too pretty, for most folks' tastes nowadays. It seems to me, though, that one well-aimed placement of the duo's work in any number of dignified motion pictures could easily break this band. Witness Brianna Olson's riveting video for 'Animals' and see which side of the Gem Club fence you fall on:

EOL: What musicians most inspire you, or your work within Gem Club?

Christopher: Well I really can't give away all my secrets, then there's nothing for us to talk about when we've run out of things to talk about. Here's some stuff I've been listening to: Aaliyah, Carissa's Wierd, Cat Power, Opal, Gas, Grouper, Holy Spirits, Kate Bush, Aphex Twin, Lower Dens, Tindersticks, Picastro. Girls. I think you can tell from this list that I love girls' voices, and Aaron's voice of course.

EOL: You've been working on a new record recently. How is this next release going to compare to your previous EP (2010's Acid & Everything)? Any changes to the formula?

Christopher: I wrote and recorded the EP very quickly. The whole thing took about two weeks and there was no time to really stress out over any of the things that I normally stress out about. This time around I've had more time with the songs. There's more space on this record. It takes its time. There's also some new instrumentation and Ieva. Ieva is new-ish.

EOL: What do you set out to accomplish in writing your songs? What's the Gem Club approach?

Jared and I were talking in the car the other day about how absolutely dispensable music has become today. We were more talking about stuff you find on the radio and how quickly it comes and goes. Culture of immediacy, blah blah blah. I've always been drawn to writers and performers who were able to create music that you could keep coming back to and still feel moved, even if the trends or whatever have changed. I guess I'm trying to do that. I don't know. I don't really think about it too much to tell you the truth. 

EOL: Gem Club describes itself (within promotional copy) as making 'minimal pop songs with piano and cello.' How do you see what you do as 'pop'? Is this more a reference to structure and tonality, or do you feel some deeper alliance with 'pop music'?

Christopher: I've always had a difficult time describing the sound. Even when I was just performing by myself around Boston. People would ask me what my music sounded like and my response always sounded really disparaging: "its slow, its sort of sad, its quiet." So when someone said soft-focus pop it sounded like the simplest way to describe the sound. I've never really thought about it as pop though. To me pop seems more targeted towards a younger audience. Like teen girls or whatever. I think yes I do theme and variation, and the structure is sometimes similar to what you'd hear in a pop song, but pop as in like "popular appeal"? I don't really think so.

EOL: On that note, where do you see the sound of Gem Club, or the songwriting within Gem Club, heading in the future?

Christopher: Some days I want to change it completely. I want it to be a larger sound. More grand. Other days I want it to be slower than it is. I want it to be less than it is. I'm really looking forward to meeting and working with more people. And maybe either or both of those will things happen.

EOL: How did it feel to get some serious attention for 'Animals' and it's accompanying video? Was that a surprise?

Christopher: The whole thing has been sort of crazy. I put some songs up on the internet and Emmanuel from Delicious Scopitone wrote and asked if he could write about them on his blog. From there it sort of just went. I remember calling BriAnna Olson from my bedroom to see if she'd be interested in doing a video and I was super nervous. I don't know. We had only talked briefly online. She had this idea where she was like 'I'm thinking about school girls and marriage and dogs'. Then she sent me a picture of herself wearing a clown nose. That was it. When Bri came to shoot the video we were hunting all over Boston for a location, trying to rent a studio space to film the girls. We ended up filming it in my backyard. That backyard is gone now though.

EOL:  Have you received any attention from record labels yet? It astounds me that you are still unsigned.

Christopher: Hmmmm. Maybe...

EOL: How many attendees, on average, are at your shows? On a good night?

Christopher: Its weird you know. Lately we're not playing as many shows locally. We don't bring a crowd here in Boston. Maybe it's the city. Maybe it's not what Boston's into right now or whatever. Boston is kind of a strange bird. We've had some really successful shows in NY.

EOL: Are there any particularly memorable/significant Gem Club shows that come immediately to mind?

Christopher: We played a living room / loft space in Brooklyn for a great crowd. People actually listening. That's the kind of audience I love to perform for. Holy Spirits had this idea where they wanted to play a set with Nathaniel Whitcomb's (ThinkorSmile) work playing behind them and they wanted us to play alongside Brianna's videos. I don't get to perform to Bri's work very often, so those shows mean a lot to me.

EOL: I've always been curious, how many people cry at your concerts? Is this a regular thing? It should be. Thoughts?

Christopher: Um. No one I hope. Or if they do let's say they keep it to themselves. That wouldn't be what I would want to do on a Friday night--go have a good cry. You?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

INTERVIEW #1: The Body (RI)

 Photo: Ryan Eyestone.

May your hands to seize.
May your legs to shrivel.
Your mind to falter and eyes to cloud.
May misery court you.
May disease then take you.
Fires lay waste to your crops and the seas cover your land.
A curse.

-The Body ('A Curse')

########The Body are a perfect band for the End Times. It matters little if you're a believer in doomsday prophecies, when the fiery/implosive/stagnant conclusion to this planet finally comes rolling around the cosmic bend it'll probably sound and feel a lot like The Body. Their most recent effort, 2010's 'All The Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood', is a simultaneously horrifying and unnervingly beautiful fusion of cataclysmic noise and apocalyptic full-choir work, there's really no other record out there like it. Vocalist and guitarist Chip King possesses a full-bodied, sweat-covered howl that comes out sounding as much like a strangled rooster (in a brilliant way) as an impaled Black Metal vocalist. I say 'impaled' here because King's voice seems to be so much more honest and genuinely distraught than, say, Varg Vikernes or Nocturno Culto, but it still possesses all the bone-chilling intensity and high-end larynx-shredding tonality of these legendary figures. Point being, there's nothing theatrical about the way King screams; nothing cool or spun to impress. It's all desperation and confusion, all panic and aggression. At the same time that he's shrieking with his entire being, body hunched over and completely tensed, his own guitar threatens to bury all of his vocal efforts. Drummer Lee Buford supplies nearly constant crash-heavy beats delivered with unbelievable force and concentration, further threatening to turn the proceedings into an insane pile of squalling violence. The duo push both themselves and their songs to the furthest reaches of power and effect, and to a level of skull-shaking abandon that suggests a powerful and entirely possible total collapse.

########It's at this juncture between destruction and devotion, frenzy and sublimity, that The Body treads a territory all their own. Their songs are ruined dystopian landscapes. Towering bombed-out masses of guitar and drums threaten to collapse inward on a lone and insane voice, while the bizarre scraps of previous fanaticisms march their way quietly into and through the wreckage. Ghostly choral decoration, looped Pentecostal-style tongues-spewing, and distant radio transmissions all appear within the end grooves of 'All The Waters...' and lend an air of perverted and bastardized spiritualism to the pair's songs. Throughout, The Assembly of Light's all-female choir contributions summon up images of Christian Armageddon while the occasional scraps of shortwave transmission recall horrifying survivalist radio broadcasts. Buford and King can be readily seen sporting massive guns of all types in their press photographs, and their lyrics read like a completely depraved and utterly brilliant death cult prayerbook. It's as if the pair has studied all of the great transgressive, paranoid, and hopelessly fanatical visionary leaders of the past 50 years (Manson, Asahara, and Applewhite all come immediately to mind) and effectively summarized their delusions into one perfect exploding soundtrack for any number of potential raptures.

########Buford and King embark on a very special tour with The Assembly of Light starting June 17th in Philadelphia. Together, the two groups will be playing 10 (surely) incredible dates up and down the East Coast, ending in Providence (their current homebase) on Sunday, June 26th. I myself am considering making the three hour trek from Maine to Rhode Island just to see them play once more. Head here for official details.

One thousand thanks to Lee for the following interview:

EOL: How often have you performed with the Assembly of Light Women's Choir? Is this something that has only occurred once or twice in a live setting? I ask because I was more than elated to see that you are performing with them onstage for the Blackened music series in NYC in June....

LB: We've played with the choir once before at the record release show. It'll probably never happen like that again. With the volume of chip's amps it's really hard for the choir to compete with that. It turned out great but we were really concerned with their mic's feeding back when we were trying to compensate for our volume. We will be touring with them in June for 10 days but it's going to be more them playing their stuff & then us playing with a little bit of crossover. It's so hard to know how a room is going to be and what the stage and PA will be like so we don't wanna plan all this stuff out and get somewhere that can't accommodate it.

EOL: How hands-on was the experience of getting the whole choir on 'All the Waters...'? Did you compose and transcribe parts for them or was someone else involved with the process?

LB: Chrissy Wolpert, who wrote the choir pieces and who started the choir, has been a friend of ours for almost a decade. She's done vocals/violin/piano stuff on older BODY stuff and on some of our side projects. She had the idea for a choir and it got going around the time we started recording All The Waters. She's kind of like our 3rd member so we trust her completely. We had all the songs written to give to her except "A Body" which she wrote the choir part for and we wrote the music to that. She is an extremely good musician so it's an honor to work with her and the choir.

EOL: What are some unexpected inspirations within the working processes and music of The Body? Any artists that would really surprise us?

LB: I love the BEACH BOYS, and we both love ELO, so we wanted to get that kind of dense sound from using a variety of instruments and voices. Our live show is very reliant on volume and the way Chip's amps setup sounds so it's hard to capture that on recordings. We wanted to keep the intensity so we had to borrow the ideas of a lot of that 60's and 70's stuff, of doubling up and using multiple instrument tracks. Working with the guys at Machines with Magnets is a huge help also.

EOL: Do you feel honored to be so often compared to The Swans in your press, or is this a point of contention for you guys? It seems very prevalent in all the writing out there on you guys....

LB: For sure, I got the chance to see them in boston last september and it was the best live show I've ever seen. If we can capture any of the intensity that they convey live and on record then I feel like we've accomplished a ton.

EOL: Are there any details on the At A Loss re-pressing of  'All The Waters...'? I have read that this it's going to be a 2xLP set, but I was curious if you had any secrets up your collective sleeve? Modified artwork? Colored/transparent vinyl? Posters? etc.?

LB: The main differences is that instead of the screenprinted insert it has two embossed euro sleeves inside the gatefold. There are some white ones and some greyish ones too, but honestly we're not big fans of colored vinyl so we made sure there's plenty of black. It also includes a download code which the original didn't have.

EOL: Favorite New England musician(s)/act on the scene today?

LB: There's a lot of good stuff out there but these are our favorites: WORK/DEATH, who did noise stuff on every track of our record, is extremely good live and just put out an excellent CD on semata productions that is a must have. Also, SEWER GODDESS from the boston area, HUMAN BEAST from providence, and BIG BLOOD from Portland.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


EVENING OF LIGHT is a tiny and humble one-man beacon on the underground, a smearing and smattering of brave sounds from all over the six states of New England (and a few beyond.) EVENING OF LIGHT is unbiased and infinitely curious.

Forthcoming features:

THE BODY (Rhode Island)
GEM CLUB (Massachusetts)

Ears to the soil.......