interview – mister lies

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

despite – or perhaps in spite of – a string of well-received releases in the first half of the decade, nick zanca hit the pause button on his mister lies project around the end of 2014. after five years in the wilderness, zanca returns to the moniker this week with a self-titled, self-released album.

mister lies is a fairly brief endeavor; its ten songs clock in at around a half-hour and are best digested all at once, preferably without interruption. anchoring the release is “the commuter,” a track whose titular subject would be the ideal consumer of this body of work: perhaps not someone inbound, about to start their day, but someone outbound, retreating to solitude and stillness.

we caught up with zanca in the weeks leading up to his return to discuss his new album, how his collaborative work with quiet friend has influenced his solo output, and the quest to search for influences outside of the realm of music. check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

it’s been nearly five years since you released the last mister lies album. what caused you to step away from the project, and what led you back?

stepping away was necessary. i was halfway through my freshman year of college when i put out the first EP on bandcamp and at that age insecurities were still deep and blind spots were still wide. i had learned ableton by looking over friends’ shoulders and stumbled upon my sound almost by accident.

the response to that early material was overwhelming. in a matter of weeks, opportunities presented themselves that usually take years for artists to reach – nearly every weekend in the coming semesters were spent flying out to play shows. as excited and grateful as i was, it was as if i had acquired an audience before a sense of self. 

eventually i would drop out of school to tour after my sophomore year, usually with other young producers who had experienced the same kind of rapid rise in that same strange internet microcosm of “chill”-adjacent electronic music. the absurdity of our individual situations and the privilege of sharing music with strangers was a source of solidarity, but the performance anxiety always persisted. i was quietly struggling to embrace being queer and neurodivergent in a scene that thrives on hedonist aesthetics, male gaze imagery and smartphone solipsism. it was often a musical neverland – unless an audience is on your side, it refuses to grow up. there were a lot of personal and professional endings. i rode the wave as far as i could, but i began to feel like i was wearing a mask. it took effort to take it off, deflate the ego and let life happen.

giving myself room to be human was probably a good start – i finished my degree, fell in love, got closer to family – but developing a intense relationship to listening outside the context of product was what got me back on my feet creatively. starting quiet friend and shifting focus to something rooted in a group effort rewired my brain. it was something i didn’t know how to do for a while. i’ve also worked as a music supervisor for hospitality venues for a few years now, and the site-specificity of sound has become something i engage with daily.

shortly after the quiet friend record came out and we were playing shows around new york, i was sifting through old hard drives and was blown away by the amount of sketches i was sitting on. i started there and recorded alone at home with what free time i had on the weekends. at first it felt like putting on an old shirt that no longer fit, but eventually the fabric stretched out, i followed the ideas that came, and a year later i had a record. 

in the interim, you’ve kept busy with quiet friend. how does your compositional approach differ (if at all) when working independently as opposed to collaboratively?

the two ways of working seem to inform and complement each other, especially now that i’ve found a balance of both. in a group context, you’re mostly letting the ideas of others in, and i was really hungry for that at the time. i tend to internalize a lot when working alone, but with others i found what i eventually recognized to be personal strengths to reinforce themselves and echo – thick textures, bricolage, a sense of place. it’s a great way to get your writers block unstuck and i’d recommend it to anyone struggling with a solo practice – you discover what it actually is you bring to the table and then are able to take that home with you and truly utilize it.

this record i made on my own couldn’t have happened without that experience. steven and i are just getting started, but i’m proud of that record we made and the strange extended family we’ve developed in the process of getting the band off the ground. i’m excited for that music to reach more ears. 

this new album has a fair amount of found sounds and electroacoustic elements – it’s very soundscape-y, for lack of a better term. who or what were some touchstones when you were writing these songs?

i have a tendency to get wrapped up in musical influence, and this time around i did my best to avoid relying on that in favor of inspiration pulled from other disciplines. in general though, i think one of the major differences between then and now is that my taste has started to embrace the longform and lean toward slowness and meditative commitment.

clarice lispector’s writing and chantal akerman’s films encourage those who consume them to have patience for a slower and fluid pace, borderline glacial, and the end result is something so human that accentuates the everyday. my record is the durational opposite – it’s over and done in thirty minutes – but it aims to capture the present and recreate the surrounding world in the same way. 

of course, i am easily impacted by what i hear and can’t ignore that. field recordings and found sounds have been an important part of my practice from the beginning, but i think this record is the first time that they are being treated as the central focus – the environments have become the soloists.  luc ferrarialvin curran and hiroshi yoshimura are all composers in touch with their respective atmospheres and that aspect of their work has had a profound effect on me.

people have always described what i do as “cinematic”. i guess i went into this one with that in mind. 

this album is self-titled; how much of a conscious decision was that?

totally intentional. it feels like the closest thing to pressing the project’s reset button. i see this work as a summation of everything i’ve explored sonically for far, so self-titling simply felt like the move.

listening to mister lies from start to finish in one sitting is optimal, but you’ve decided to share “the commuter” ahead of its release as a preview of things to come. what does that particular song represent to you, and how does it fit into the album overall?

“the commuter” was the first of the batch to feel complete and was also the first indication of the record’s site-specific direction. it’s less of a single and more of an excerpt i was itching to share. of all the tracks on the record, i think it feels the most similar in spirit to the music i made when I was younger, but also works as an introduction to the sonic territory i’ve been interested in occupying lately.

when making records in the past, i would close myself off somewhere and create situations for myself that were unhealthily hermetic – i would let nothing else in but the music. the results produced intense work but the process was not always productive.

this time around, i’ve introduced more balance to my life. anything that i treated as a distraction before – be it the daily routine or the world outside my window – has become a compositional device and fuel for the record. in this case, it’s the introspection and claustrophobia on my way to and from work. 

mister lies is out this friday, august 2nd. read an essay zanca wrote about his album, alongside a full stream, over at talkhouse.

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interview – ryan pollie

– featured image courtesy of dominic ferris –

ryan pollie’s brisk, twenty-five minute new self-titled album is bookended by a pair of choral tracks, brief exercises that retain a remarkably cleansing effect. in the past year or so, pollie relinquished his nom de guerre of los angeles police department, battled cancer, and wrote many of the songs that would wind up on this record, but not necessarily in that order; he received his diagnosis after much of the album was complete, putting those songs – and their existential themes of mortality – into a slightly more immediate context.

under his own name, ryan pollie is much more clear-eyed in his approach to songwriting. the hazy ennui that dotted his output as los angeles police department – a perfect analog to one’s mid-twenties – has disappeared, bucolic slide guitars, straight-ahead acoustic strumming, and detuned piano chords reigning supreme.

breezy though its contents may be, ryan pollie’s aural affect is at times belied by its namesake’s lyrical tone; the plaintive refrain of “my god’s insane” on “aim slow” might serve as a mantra for the entire album, an attempt to explain the inexplicable. “only child” finds pollie addressing his diagnosis and its accompanying uncertainty head-on, while “raincoat” is a brief, heartbreaking ode to a relationship’s end.

the nostalgia of pollie’s earlier work as los angeles police department has throughlines in cuts like “leaving california” and “eyes of vermont,” both awash in images of childhood and home. taken in as a whole, this ten-song collection serves as a potent snapshot of pollie’s current existence, its delivery done in a timeless fashion.

we recently caught up with pollie via e-mail to discuss 1970s singer-songwriters, the fruits of collaboration, and his lingering affinity for new england. check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

this is your first album under your own name after a handful as los angeles police department. was there anything in particular that led to you shedding that moniker?

totally. the past few years i’ve been getting heavy into singer-songwriters from the early 1970s. whether american, english, irish, japanese – most of the artists i fell for were making music so personal that the subject matter and the tone was so closely linked to the writer. like graham nash or jackson nrowne both writing really personal break-up albums (both about joni mitchell) – there was just no separation between the songs and the songwriter.

i came to kind of an existential moment where it felt like by shedding a “band name,” i was able to dig a little deeper with what i had to say and how i wanted to represent myself with my art. once i made the decision, it really provided a new space for me to grow as an artist, i think. 

you wrote most of this album, which tends to grapple with mortality and the general essence of being, before receiving a cancer diagnosis. did you subsequently find yourself ascribing new meaning to those completed songs, or a new perspective on the contents and scope of the album? 

i think that’s really perceptive of you to ask, maybe just because that’s absolutely what happened. i had written and recorded most of the material before i knew that i was sick, and the lyrical themes you are describing, that i was already exploring, became even more meaningful to me.

songwriting seems to have this magical prophetic nature sometimes. not always. but for this record, and this has happened to me in the past, i was writing songs about facing death, getting sick, ending a specific relationship – all things that just kind of flowed through me without knowing that they would be around the corner in my life.

the collaborations across this album feel especially significant, given the intimate circumstances surrounding its final stages of creation. can you speak a bit to any part or parts of the collaborative process you found particularly meaningful?

community was a huge part of the album process for me, and a really important part of my life through all stages of making the record.

i feel really proud of where i’m at as far as my relationship with my own work. i not only feel so lucky to have amazing friends and family supporting me in general, but i was able to collaborate with all of my friends in bringing the songs to life. i would reach out to all of my friends who play music, asking them to contribute on different days when i was writing and recording different songs, and they all were so graceful in that they really gave 100% of themselves to my art.

i can hear the personalities of all my friends all over the record, as if i’m spending time with them, as if they’re in the room with me. it’s nice to know that i’ll have that feeling when i play the record for the rest of my life.

i also mixed the record with one of my best friends while i was going through chemo: brian rosemeyer. he would be in a room with me, as i was pale and bald and sick – i looked like nosferatu. and he would not only give such caring attention to each track, but he was also a huge emotional support for me through that whole experience of getting cancer. i could tell he was emotionally invested in the story i was weaving together, and it really shows, i think, in his work. it was the best get well soon gift, looking back on it now. 

your childhood home is on the east coast, but you seem pretty geographically and musically preoccupied with california. do any parts of life in new england – and its accompanying experiences – seep into your songwriting?

very much so. i wrote “eyes of vermont” in vermont – while listening to a lot of will fox demos. being among the trees, at the lake – it’s so inspiring to me visually and just gives me such a different feeling than california does. it was nice bringing that energy back.

i wrote “leaving california” – originally called “leaving california for vermont” – right after that trip as well. that song is about going home, the fear and anxieties of los angeles and the comfort of the green mountains. 

ryan pollie is out now via anti-.

interview – barrie

– featured image courtesy of the alexa viscius –

after releasing a handful of sharp one-off singles last year, the brooklyn quintet barrie has their sights set on 2019. the band is slated to release their debut full-length, happy to be here, later this spring and recently shared “clovers,” the album’s lead single, an encapsulation of the harmonically-rich collaborative nature barrie’s music tacks towards.

we recently caught up with four of the five members of barrie via e-mail to talk collaborative creative direction, the significance of “clovers” as a lead single, and how individual members’ experiences have shaped happy to be here. check out the transcript, which has been lightly edited for clarity, below.

there’s a bit of ambiguity as to whether barrie is a band or a solo project, which i think is by design. how do you approach integrating your own creative direction with the input and contributions of the other band members?

barrie: we’re figuring it out as we go. everyone in the band is a talented writer and producer in their own right, and has other outlets outside the band. the best way i can think to describe it is we’re running my songs through the filter of this really interesting group of people who have experiences and talents that i don’t. sometimes that plays out through the music (and very much in the live production), and sometimes it’s in ways beyond music, like in the aesthetics or big picture decisions, or who we collaborate with.

although the band now operates out of new york city, each member originally hails from a different part of the globe. can you speak to any individual experiences, musical or otherwise, that were particularly valuable and/or informative to the band as a whole while making this record?

dom: that is a heck of a question. i would say a great thing we did was to play the first set of songs together many times, as for the first few months we were maybe listening to barrie’s demos remotely and coming together was more about meeting and getting a feel for each other. i think that allowed us to imagine what we could each bring to the table.

spurge: almost all of us are on the other side of twenty-five, so we’ve each had our own experiences, in and outside of the music industry, before coming together to start this project. that’s allowed us to have a patience and self-awareness about our band growth and group dynamic that i don’t think is common for new bands. for example, i’ve worked and interned at a few music studios in new york. that experience has taught me about the prevalence of ego in the creative process, sometimes more so than the actual music making. so, we all make sure to always be empathetic and communicative to each other with this in mind.

noah: yeah, everyone in the band is a bit of an old soul type/has been around it all for a while so longevity and sustainability is something that is a constant consideration, both logistically, musically, and emotionally. we want/plan to be around for a long time and make decisions accordingly.

“clovers” is the lead single from happy to be here, and i’m particularly struck by how the synthesizers in its second half juxtapose the piano in its first, how it encapsulates your aesthetic well while leaving other avenues open for exploration. is there anything in particular you’d like to share about the track, its origins, and/or its significance to you collectively as an ensemble?

barrie: i’m happy this is the lead single because it’s one of the songs that was most shaped by others in the band. i made the demo in boston with the original piano and synth sounds, and it was the first song spurge and noah and i worked on together when i moved to new york. spurge and noah added textures and beefed up the synth sounds, and then once we were in studio, noah beefed and polished them even more.

lol, gross.

it captures the “fucked up classic” aesthetic that we’re after. and of course, like most of the songs on the album, dom’s drumming on it, and that takes it to another level.

dom: “clovers” for me is a great indication of how we wanted to push the record beyond basic “pop songwriter” territory – a lot of that is down to (co-producer) jake aron giving a lot of space while keeping control of what was at the core of each track. the middle eight is mega hard to play though, scary.

polish that beef brisket!

noah: one of the major guiding principles behind this project is timelessness. we wanted to fill the record with a ton of easter eggs so there’d be something new to discover with each listen and listeners can consume it on whatever level they prefer. in this song, we mostly achieved that through running the MIDI that barrie had written into a bunch of analog synths, and playing with filters and stuff in real-time to introduce some human variation and create some happy accidents.

happy to be here is out may 3rd via winspear. pre-order the album here.

interview – majetic

– featured image courtesy of chris cox –

justin majetich shed his full band and the last letter of his surname in pursuit of his newest album.  club dread features a streamlined palette and a renewed ambition, becoming a vessel to explore the fractured intricacies of life through a dissonant, electronic lens.

after the acerbic, audio-visual one-two punch of “horseback” and “bloodbrunch,” majetic returns today with “tender ums,” the album’s reflective penultimate cut, its subterranean pulses and acoustic piano motif swirling together towards something bigger, more grandiose.  in its final moments, “tender ums” reaches that summit, all of its components coalescing into a perfect representation of majetic’s raw, soulful interior so often shrouded in stabs of angular synths.

we recently touched base with majetic via e-mail for an intimate glimpse inside the creation of club dread, its transcontinental roots, and the sequential significance of its third and newest single.  check out the transcript, along with the premiere of “tender ums,” below.

club dread is club adjacent.  is this a headspace you’ve occupied for some time or one you specifically found yourself in while writing the songs on this record?

when i moved to new york city in 2015, i suddenly had access to a whole range of underground parties — stuff i’d dreamt of in the midwest but that didn’t really exist for me there.  i’d caught traces of it from friends in detroit, but overall, it was totally new and exciting.  i moved to new york for a musical community i’d expected to find in the live venues, but i guess it was on the dance floor that i first felt a sense of belonging in this city.

so yes, for a while my headspace was club-adjacent – preoccupied with its magic, saturated with the music.  by the time i was writing club dread in 2017, i wasn’t going out as much, but i was absolutely referencing that headspace as i wrote.  i was dipping back into those experiences and re-imagining them for the album world.  i still catch a party now and then and have some really great friends who i met through that community.

both oakland and queens factor into your biography – disparate locations geographically, but perhaps ones with some things in common musically.  are you drawn more to the contrasts or the constants of these two cities?  how did working on the album far from where it was initially conceived affect its direction and outcome?

place heavily informs the work i make.  not only does it shape the album’s atmosphere but it is also personified in the work, almost as a character.  NYC was the place-character in my last record, LUV IN THE RUINS, and i wanted something different this time around.  i was spending a lot of time in oakland with my brother and sister, and naturally, it followed to set the record there.

there’s such a complex spirit to the bay area.  so much tension between the awe-inspiring natural beauty and the extreme human disparity, the promise of progress and the dystopian realities…  all the while, there’s this catastrophic fault-line brooding underfoot and the pacific chewing at the coast, violent and massive, an insatiable conduit of dread.  incorporating the bay as a setting seemed like a powerful way to illustrate both the ecstasy and grief the characters of club dread experience in and around a club stricken with tragedy.

that being said — and i realize i haven’t directly addressed your question — there are traces of NYC in the album.  a lot of the experiences i’m filtering into the record took place here, and it’s where i was living when i wrote most of the lyrics.  still, i don’t think being back in NYC for a bulk of the writing process hindered my ability to access my sense of the bay in any significant way.  i’d taken extensive notes, and honestly, i think place can sometimes be better comprehended from a distance.  or at least, better comprehended for the purpose of art-making – the finite, fallible substance of memory naturally lending a tint of mythology to the thing remembered.

as for the the contrasts and/or constants between oakland and NYC, i mostly think about the former.  to me, they’re sort of inverse of one another: one vast, one claustrophobic; one idealistic, one realistic; one circuitous, one direct.  these sort of things require a more nuanced explanation, but that’s the jist.  as for musical contrasts, i feel like there’s a lot more concern with coolness and cleverness in NYC versus a lot of play and theater in the bay.  but if i’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that any scene is mostly what you make of it.

much of your album is centered around an electronic soundscape, but “tender ums,” which we’re premiering today, counts an acoustic piano among its focal points.  can you speak to the genesis of this track and how it fits into club dread overall?

i was visiting my parents in ohio, where my dad pastors a church.  after service, everyone will head to the fellowship hall and catch up over snacks.  on this given sunday, i slipped back into the sanctuary to play the piano while i waited for my parents to wrap up. that’s where i wrote the theme that plays during the song’s first interlude and also lends shape to the vocal melody.  it felt like something you could loop endlessly.  it was soft and small but carried an emotional weight.  i’m actually just realizing it now, but this sanctuary setting in which the song began is preserved in the “airport chapel” of the song’s opening verse.

anyway, i tucked those four measures away for a few weeks, and then one day tried growing them into a song, along with a phrase i’d pulled from my notes: “the body wasn’t made for this sort of placelessness.”  thirty-six hours later, i had “tender ums,” which is a speed unheard of for me.  it just flowed with uncharacteristic ease.  it was the last song i wrote for club dread, and it felt like recompense for an otherwise meticulous process.

though it’s the penultimate track, i see “tender ums” as the album’s final chapter.  the actual closer, “club dread,” looks back over the record in a way, encompassing the events, characters, and themes – a spiritual conclusion.  but “tender ums” sees the speaker at the chronological end, as they make their departure from the bay (airplane imagery a bookend with similar imagery in the first lines of album-opener “chewing tabs”).

it’s perhaps the record’s most vulnerable moment, but still i find a quiet triumph in the song.  take the line, “waking to a kinder sadness….”  those who’ve experienced grief subside might relate to a moment when one first feels the heaviness shift.  it’s the tiniest movement but, nevertheless, a notion of a world beyond grief.  you understand that life can recover, even if you don’t understand how.  that’s the moment from which the song is sung, and i believe it’s a crucial expression of hope in an album frequently given to despair.

club dread arrives november 2nd via winspear.  take a listen to its third single, “tender ums,” out now on spotify and premiering below on the dimestore.

interview – tomberlin

– featured image courtesy of philip cosores – 

When sarah beth tomberlin released at weddings last year, the weight and poignancy of her songs were immediately palpable.  each of the album’s seven original tracks is quietly devastating in its own right, but the entire project has a symbiotic relationship with catharsis; listening to at weddings in full, without distraction or interruption, yields a profoundly cleansing experience.

after its initial release and acclaim, the omaha-based saddle creek records picked up at weddings for a reissue, with three additional tracks in tow.  “a video game,” “i’m not scared,” and “seventeen” all arrive in succession, bolstering the album’s second act with tomberlin’s signature confessionals delivered over sparse arrangements.  “i’m not scared” is particularly resonant, the directness of its refrain at once deeply personal and widely applicable to a larger audience.  that strain of altruism crops up again and again throughout at weddings, its myriad personal reckonings conveyed with the rare ease that makes its consumption so medicinal, therapeutic.

we were very fortunate to recently connect with the louisville-based songwriter via e-mail to chat about at weddings, the lingering effects of childhood, and the enduring influence of hymns.  our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity; check out the transcript below.

your family moved several times when you were very young, a transience that finds an analog in your music and lyrics.  much of at weddings seems rooted in adolescence, but does your early childhood have any lingering effect over your songwriting?

i’m not sure.  i think childhood shows itself in glimmers as we get older.  it comes out in different ways in different people with various histories.  my childhood was full of changes, but also full of a lot of sameness.  you find things to hold fast to during these changes.

i was always a kid who was outside as much as possible.  i was bad at sitting still.  i had to be out doing something, and maybe this comes from living in desolate places: the desire to make your surroundings interesting.  exploring your environment is a large part of songwriting, at least for me.  that same sense of wonder i hope i continue to carry that with me in my writing.

you’ve cited “tornado” as the bellwether of at weddings.  do any of the subsequent songs written particularly stand out in terms of personal significance, a memorable origin, or overall construction?

have i?  haha, maybe it’s in my bio somewhere, which i did not write.

when i initially wrote “i’m not scared” i didn’t think it was very good.  looking back now, i am really proud of that song and it is one that people want to talk about the most.  that song has brought up lots of good conversations so i am thankful i didn’t toss it in the garbage.  ha.

bright eyes and dashboard confessional were among the first CDs that you purchased.  are there any other artists you listened to at that formative age that have left a lasting impression on your life, not necessarily just within your capacity as a songwriter?

hm, i was late to music that really influenced me.  i still am learning and wanting all the recommendations.  i love listening to old and new.

i also feel like i’ve been asked this a good bit and try to condense the answer, so i’ll leave some other influences here: the carpenters, andy hull of manchester orchestra, cass mccombs, laura marling, neil young, and arcade fire.

the saddle creek release of at weddings contains three new songs that were written after the album originally came out last year.  how do these tracks fit with the rest of the album thematically and in terms of sequencing?

“i’m not scared” i actually wrote a month after i got back from recording the first six songs, which was august of 2016.  “a video game” i wrote that winter.  so those songs were really written in a similar space and time in my life where i think it could have fit earlier, i just didn’t have recording equipment around to place it with the already completed album.

i wrote “seventeen” last summer.  initially i was reluctant to put these songs on at weddings, because i thought the record was cohesive as it was, but listening through with where they are placed on the record they really fit so perfectly.  i think, if anything, it added even more depth to the record.  i’m really happy i decided to add them.

the phrase “my fifth of a century” feels like a mantra of sorts for this album.  do you find the first twenty years of your life to be a period that’s come to a conclusion, or are you still sorting through the vestiges of those experiences?

all but one of the songs on the record i wrote in my bedroom at my parent’s house.  since then, i’ve moved out and to another state.  i work in a different environment so the work has changed.  i’m not in school, and my community is not the same.  so yes, i do think there is somewhat of a conclusion there.

your music has been described as having a hymnal quality, and it certainly has a cleansing effect.  what components of sacred music continue to resonate with you, even as you gravitate towards a more secular existence?

i don’t think i’m gravitating towards a more “secular existence,” ha.  i am not sure what that means.  but yes, i am still influenced by the hymns and spiritual songs that i heard everyday.  i think hymns are some of the most beautiful songs, old hymns especially.

my dad actually gave me a book of anne steele’s hymns a few years ago and i wrote music to a song called “dear refuge of my weary soul”.  her life was severely difficult and she found peace through writing.  that particular hymn is just kind of her talking to god, questioning back and forth.  i really like when hymn writers question aloud, so maybe that is something i’ve taken from that kind of music.

at weddings arrives tomorrow via saddle creek.

interview – hush hush records

– featured image courtesy of the artist – 

Frequent patrons of this space already know that the dimestore has been enamored with the seattle-based label hush hush records since last summer.  the label’s aesthetic is fluid with seemingly endless permutations; a loose nocturnal regulation has yielded ambient projects, glitchy electronic experiments, and pristine dream-pop albums among other releases.

on friday, hush hush will release HH100, a centennial of sorts that highlights and celebrates its growth over the past six years.  the compilation features fourteen brand-new tracks that are all collaborations between hush hush artists past, present, and future, a compelling distillation of the label’s “night bus” ethos.

we recently touched base with the label’s founder, alex ruder, to chat about the history of hush hush, its hundredth release, and how ruder’s work at the iconic radio station KEXP informs his approach to the label.  streaming alongside the interview is the premiere of “wait too long,” the captivating collaboration between vivian fantasy and quiett that serves at the compilation’s penultimate track.  click the play button and digest the interview below.

hush hush began back in 2012 with kid smpl’s skylight.  what sustained you in the early days of cultivating the label, and has that driving force changed at all over the past six years?

when i launched the label, i honestly didn’t have any big-picture or long-term goals, the main thing was just to work with joey butler (aka kid smpl) to help present his debut album.  but a major motivation to cultivate the label beyond that release in those early years was bearing witness to the relative success of skylight.  it wasn’t necessarily the most successful release financially, but there was some nice momentum around it.  kid smpl was accepted into the red bull music academy just after the announcement of the album and months prior to its eventual release, his live shows were consistently memorable affairs and each performance showcased his quickly growing sonic evolution, and positive press coverage about the album all made it feel like the time and energy we collectively put into the album was a worthwhile effort.

during this early period of the label, i was also hosting a monthly hush hush DJ night in seattle, and those monthly events kept a complimentary aspect of the label moving forward and allowed the label to connect with more artists, as each monthly DJ night featured a special guest DJ to showcase their own “night bus” soundtrack.  thanks to the support we received for skylight, both local artists and non-local artists began reaching out with demos to consider for release on hush hush, and hearing exciting demos from new, unknown, or overlooked artists and wanting to help them share their sounds continues to be the driving force behind the label.  it’s still based in that desire to share quality sounds from artists that i feel deserve a bit more of a spotlight.

the hush hush catalogue feels like a curated playlist on an album-sized scale, if that clumsy analogy makes any sense: each release is complimentary to its predecessors but explores a fresh facet of the label’s aesthetic.  does your experience in radio at all inform how you sequence releases and approach hush hush as a whole?

aside from wishfully trying to align releases with a season that makes the most sense (ie: darker ambient/drone releases in winter, brighter sounds in summer), i’m not trying to be too intentional with the sequence of releases, but i’m super focused on the sequencing of songs on each release and frequently geek out when taking a collection of songs and figuring out the best sequence to paint the most captivating picture possible.

my experience in radio definitely comes into play in these situations.  with every radio show i put together, i try to play and transition songs in an order that feels natural and smooth, but also sneaks in challenging segues and allows the narrative to grow and expand with each new song, and that’s how i view each hush hush release.  i’ve never released a stand-alone single on hush hush; i’ve always been focused on fleshed-out EPs, mini-albums, or full-length albums, as i’m still a huge fan of LPs and EPs that showcase a clear vision from the artist.

HH100

HH100 is, as the name suggests, your 100th release.  congratulations!  it’s also a pretty unique release: fourteen brand-new tracks, all collaborations between artists that have called hush hush home at some point.  what gave you the initial idea for this kind of project?

thank you!  i thought it’d be a fun challenge to coordinate another hush hush compilation for the 100th release.  i’ve done a couple bandcamp-only compilations in the past, more as a thank-you to fans, featuring new unreleased songs from hush hush family and friends (presents vol. 1) or a combination of new unreleased songs as well as select songs from the past year’s catalog (presents vol. 2).

but this was the first time trying to do an “official” compilation, and i thought it’d be exciting to tap into the generous collaborative spirit that so many hush hush artists possess and try to do something unique for the compilation: pairing up artists, sometimes from different sides of the planet, to bounce ideas off each other and see what they could come up with.  i’ve always been amazed at the talent of the artists that have released music on hush hush, yet i was admittedly a bit shocked to hear how strong and seamless the collaborative tracks turned out, especially from two artists that had most likely never communicated with each other before.

were there any collaborative pairings that took you by surprise, or any memorable anecdotes about the various processes that made their way back to you?

honestly, i don’t think any of the collaborative pairings came as a “surprise” to me.  although their styles may vary widely, i feel there’s a common thread to every hush hush release and each artist tapped into that shared vibe for their track.

i was thrilled that cock & swan and TZECHAR were able to collaborate on a new track; they’ve both been strong admirers of each other’s work for years now.  they’ve previously remixed each other’s tracks, but to have them work together on something new felt really special.

hanssen and secret school teaming up on a track is another collaboration that has led to some wonderful results.  both of them live in seattle and are big fans of each other’s work.  working together on “felt” was quite pivotal, as it’s not only a stunning track that shows them creatively pushing each other, but it also planted the seed for them to continue to work together on new tracks, so there may likely be a bigger collaborative release from them down the road.

Vivian-Fantasy-Photo-1-Credit-Bee-Cardoso

– vivian fantasy (bee cardoso) –

today we’re premiering “wait too long,” the collaboration between vivian fantasy and quiett.  can you share the label’s history with these two artists?  how did this particular collaboration come to be?

yeah, i was stoked when vivian fantasy and quiett decided to work on a track together.  each of them bring a cool “live band” feel to their songs.

vivian fantasy is richmond, virginia-based musician danny bozella. he had been self-releasing music on bandcamp, but then last year he came across hush hush via asking/bearing, an album by seattle-based artist olive jun (aka lushloss) who previously lived in richmond, so danny was familiar with her music and was excited to see her music released on a label.  he reached out to me with a handful of demo tracks that turned into the dreamy psych-pop EP deep. honey. that came out late last year on hush hush.

quiett is actually a duo comprised of sam leffers and kevin hake.  sam reached out to me in early 2017 with some demos he had done with kevin as well as manchester, UK DJ/producer two tail, and i was immediately impressed with the set.  i ended up releasing their fountains EP during the summer last year.  both vivian fantasy and quiett create such magnetic, romantic, gauzy sounds, it was exciting to hear their styles mesh together so smoothly on “wait too long.”

what does the future hold in store for hush hush?

the future is still driven by the initial motivation to do what i can to work with new/underground artists, help share their music in the way that feels both good for the artist and the label, and be able to foster a family/community through it all.  there’s still lots of releases in queue, so the future holds many more hush hush sounds that will continue to explore the genre-less yet distinctive vibe that originally birthed the label.

HH100 arrives august 3rd on bandcamp and later this month on cassette.  you can pre-order the compilation now.

interview – cam maclean

– featured image courtesy of  sarah o’driscoll – 

Cam maclean’s music evokes a sense of timelessness.  the montreal songwriter – perhaps best-known for his work in vesuvio solo – began constructing his solo debut full-length back in 2015; the end result is wait for love, an eight-song collection of breezy, folk-inflected soft pop gems interested in parsing how heady topics like heartache and masculinity collide and intertwine.

from early, synth-driven cuts like “where i go” and “new jerusalem” to the piano-oriented title track and evocative ballad “light cast,” maclean has already provided a broad primer to the textures he explores across wait for love, his singular falsetto and angular guitar motifs threaded throughout.  with the album’s arrival just a day away, we caught up with maclean via e-mail to discuss its creation; check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

how did this new batch of tunes come about?  did you have a conscious plan to create a body of work separate from vesuvio solo, or did it occur a bit more organically?

i’ve always written songs on my own, and had been planning to do my own record for a long time.  vesuvio solo is (ironically, i suppose) very much a duo – the songs are co-written by both (co-frontman) thom and i.  i do work really well in partnerships in general, though, and in the making of my own record wait for love, working with producer adam wilcox was invaluable.

we started working together on some of the songs in 2015, and a lot of them went through many different arrangements.  the song “where i go,” for instance, was originally done in a major key – adam encouraged me to play it in minor.  “light cast” is another song that ended up dramatically different than it started – it was originally written as a slow acoustic ballad, sung in a much lower register.

wait for love explores a sonic territory that’s familiar to you, but you cite a larger range of influences.  what new artists in particular did you find yourself gravitating towards while working on this release?

i can’t say that i was directly influenced by any newer artists when it came to writing or producing any of these songs.  in fact, perhaps the album i listened to the most while i was making these songs was carole king’s tapestry!

i am, however, of course inspired by a lot of newer artists.  jessica pratt is someone whose music i’m consistently interested in, for instance.  my record does explore similar sonic territory as vesuvio solo, yes, but the songs on wait for love have a confessional quality that makes them quite different from vesuvio solo, i think.

can you speak to any obstacles you faced while recording a solo project that you hadn’t encountered previously?  perhaps there were unforeseen benefits as well?

i worked on the album in a very piecemeal fashion over the course of two years or so.  this was both frustrating (because of course it’s nice to get something done quickly), and also a gift because it did allow the songs to grow and become shaped more organically without force.  the biggest obstacle was trying to complete the album and focus on it while still being active with vesuvio solo and several other projects.

this album has many of the lush qualities that could be associated with the singer-songwriters of yesteryear.  is there a specific decade you find yourself especially endeared to, touchstones that will always inform your work in some way?

the 1970s is probably the decade that produced my favorite records more than any other.  court and spark by joni mitchell, for instance, is a record i always come back to.  other favorites include judee sill’s self-titled debut, paris 1919 by john cale, and paul simon’s debut solo record.

“jacob always” has some memorable imagery that slots in nicely with the album’s overarching themes.  is there a set of circumstances that inspired the track that you’d be comfortable sharing?

jacob as well as the “fortune teller” in the song are fictitious, but the themes in the song are ones i wanted to consciously explore.  i suppose many have driven good love away at one point or another, but of course i’ve known so many men in particular who’ve done this again and again and thought they “weren’t to blame” for the damage they caused.

do you see any more solo work in your future after wait for love winds down?

yes, definitely.  i’ve already begun recording a few new songs for my next solo record.

wait for love arrives tomorrow via atelier ciseaux records; stream it in full a bit early, courtesy of popmatters.

interview – quiet friend

– featured image courtesy of daniel dorsa –

A smattering of what’s to come from quiet friend in early 2018 arrived last month in the form of “safe,” a swirling piece of high-fidelity pop majesty.  project leaders nick zanca and steven rogers have imbued their forthcoming self-titled debut with a devotional equal parts pop and ambient, an end result that leans heavily on texture, atmosphere, and the implications that accompany both.

as the days grow shorter and the temperatures colder, ambient music can provide a unique respite, one that feels forever wed to winter months.  zanca, a longtime purveyor of – and architect within – the genre, recently compiled an hour-long mix for the dimestore, focusing on works from ambient forbears of the 1970s and 1980s.  it’s a sparse, affecting compilation best consumed through headphones, preferably in solitude.

accompanying the mix is a short but incredibly insightful conversation with zanca, throughout which he explores his relationship with specific pieces, how reactions to the current political climate are embodied within the genre, and an overall archeological pursuit of ambient music.  the transcript follows the mix, below, and has been slightly edited for clarity.  click play and immerse yourself.

influences like prefab sprout and the blue nile are proudly worn, but how do other offerings on this mix fit within the construction of quiet friend?  have any of these artists – or perhaps their corresponding tracks – directly influenced this project?

as long as steven and i have been working together, atmosphere has been at the epicenter of what we do.  with this record, it’s gotten to the point where atmosphere and texture dictate virtually every other aspect of the music, down to contributors, arrangements, choice of instrumentation (oberheim synths, delay systems, zithers, harmoniums, the string section) – a majority of the lyrics acknowledge space, even.  regardless of who joins us moving forward, or whether our music gets lighter or darker from here, we’re always going to have a paw in the “ambient” pool.  i suppose this mix acted as an exercise in showcasing that angle of our project.

other than the obvious u.k. sophisti-pop influence, i personally became very invested during this album’s production in the discovery of 1970s and 1980s ambient/minimalist music from japan and italy – both of which are represented somewhat here in this mix.  both of those countries in particular are sonic goldmines as far as that kind of music is concerned.  i’m not sure which record it was that opened the can of worms – i could name the work of hiroshi yoshimura, luciano cilio or midori takada as starting points – but once i began the journey, my boyfriend has a real hard time getting me off soulseek or discogs.  since then, i’ve been fully committed to the almost archaeological pursuit of discovering older, underheard music in the hopes that at least one of these records can find a new audience.  it’s also my hope that quiet friend could act as a similar vehicle for musical discovery.

the original release dates of these tracks range from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s; what about this period of time, specifically within the realm of ambient music’s evolution, speaks to you in particular?

it’s difficult to pin down what exactly draws me to that era in particular – i guess part of it has to do with the fact that digital music technology was still so nascent at the time and that creative possibilities in the studio seemed so boundless then.  there’s also the diy aspect too – in most cases, these artists were privately pressing their albums and operating completely outside conventional channels of marketing and distribution.  home recording had just become normalized and people could explore similar sonic terrain to brian eno, steve reich, and labels like ecm with very limited resources.  there’s something very punk to me about that kind of ethic.

i was texting an old friend from college earlier this week who observed how huge of a year this was for ambient music – both new and old – and how much of that was a response to political unrest.  i don’t think that’s wrong.  as it is, so much of the history of this genre has borrowed cues from disparate heritages – indian raga, indonesian gamelan, african percussion, gregorian chant, american primitive guitar.  listening to the way artists fuse these influences today in the face of an administration that has so clearly threatened multiculturalism seems to me not only like the strongest way to heal right now, but also functions as a wholly valid form of antifascist protest.

are there a couple of songs on this mix that you hold especially close, and, if so, would you be willing to elaborate as to why?

i could go on at length about any of these records, but i’m going to focus on three near-and-dears that deserve far more credit.

a track from venetian musician gigi masin’s album wind opens up the mix.  this is a deep, minimal and icy album that was somewhat of a crate digger’s holy grail for many years – it was only ever sold at shows and many of the original copies were destroyed in a flood.  it was finally reissued a few years ago and since then he’s been enjoying a bit of a comeback, both as a solo artist and with a new band called gaussian curve.  the sound palette here – a lone korg poly-800 synth, a piano, a tenor sax, and a trumpet – is chillingly sparse but still manages to sound gigantic.  i’ve spent a few winters watching the snow fall to this record.

i also included a cut from neighborhoods, the lone album of portland-based musician ernest hood.  this record largely revolves around communal field recordings taken around the oregon suburbs where he grew up, which were then placed amongst washes of zither and synth.  it’s a hauntingly gorgeous example of the power of the private press and proof that one can evoke nostalgia without venturing into overly sentimental territory.

nuno canavarro’s plux quba is a record from portugal that is incredibly difficult to pin down and even more impossible to write about – i discovered it through jim o’rourke who reissued it about a decade after its initial release in 1988.  canavarro managed to build an entire world here with just a primitive 8-bit sampler and a outdated fostex 8-track tape machine.  that this music predates oneohtrix point never, fennesz, or ricky eat acid by almost two decades is kind of baffling to me – it speaks its own language and exists outside of time.  i dream of making records that have that kind of effect on people.

quiet friend is a collaborative, pop-leaning project, but you’ve been making ambient music on your own for quite awhile now.  how does your immersion in more abstract sound design influence your headspace in a pop setting?

that’s a very good question and one that i’m not sure i’ve totally figured out the answer to yet.  i think about it all the time though.  i will say that i’ve become able to stop myself from overthinking about certain pop conventions when we’ve allowed the atmosphere of the music to take the wheel.  the beds of texture these songs sit in almost become a vehicle for storytelling or a context for the melodies.  with a song like “safe,” the drone section at the end is meant to add a ruminative quality that is only just beginning to be hinted at by the lyrics.  we’re trying to create music that doesn’t reveal itself right away, that rewards repeat listens – never the same river twice.

quiet friend’s self-titled debut album is out march 9th via elestial sound.  revisit the project’s first single, “safe,” here.

bill waters – humid

– featured image courtesy of the artist – 

“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: bill waters.

Bill waters is a blank canvas; he could be an unassuming next-door neighbor, the vaguely-recognizable guy from the bus, an office curmudgeon.  in this context, waters is the moniker of songwriter and producer william smith, a twenty-something who hails from the hudson valley.  humid is his first serious solo venture and bill waters is the vessel through which it is delivered, a beleaguered persona that allows songs to wax romantic freely, without any elements of self-consciousness trickling in.

the six songs that span humid are varied, but all harken back to the 1960s & 1970s soft pop waters acknowledges as a touchstone; the brisk “new car” segues seamlessly into the woozy, laid-back haze of “easy,” while penultimate cut “polyphone” is a sparse, tender entry swaddled in the warmth of an electric piano.  equally impressive throughout humid is waters’ dedication to exploring the peaks and valleys of his vocal register.  perhaps no one song better captures this than “milo and me,” a raucous ode to companionship that finds waters’ rich, sonorous baritone flirting with the cusp of falsetto.

through and through, humid is a remarkable songwriting achievement, a showcase of the depth possible with a modest amount of tools.  we recently caught up with the man behind bill waters to chat about the album process; check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

you record under the moniker bill waters, whose given name is an abbreviation of your own.  is the moniker simply a stage name, or more of a persona you slip into while writing?  maybe something else entirely?

bill waters is definitely a persona for me to slip into while writing.  i think he’s some jaded 1970s recording artist that chain smokes and takes a lot of amphetamines – definitely a character that i lean into while writing and recording.  it feels like something to almost hide behind, or like a barrier to put up while being maybe a little too sappy or romantic with the lyrical content.

i believe humid is your first venture as a solo artist.  what projects have you worked on in the past, and what was the catalyst to strike out on your own?

i played in a band called dumb talk for a long time with a few of my good friends.  that was great; we put out some vinyl and gigged around.  that helped me get into the nerdier, engineer side of music as well.

i think with humid, i wanted to prove to myself that i could write, record, and produce something completely on my own.  i was working a lot, and when you’re doing that it’s hard to coordinate schedules with other people and friends who also have lives.  it’s also a good chance to release all of the little control freak tendencies that every songwriter has.  there are definitely pros and cons to doing a record on your own, as opposed to with a band or engineer.

Bill Waters Humid

to that end, how did you approach the writing and recording process for the songs on this ep?

the writing process came in waves over the past year.  a lot of it was me getting high and sitting in the bathroom with a nylon string guitar for an hour or two.  the lyrical content seemed to flow pretty easily; i was starting a relationship with someone, and got to use all of the romantic influence that comes along with that.  i think it’s hard to be falling in love and not write about that.

recording was a pretty special, interesting process.  i was living with my friend in upstate new york and we had a little studio set up in our apartment.  towards the end of july 2017, i had a week off of work, so i decided that was when i would record and mix everything.  looking back, it was kind of a dark week.  i would wake up, eat some eggs, binge on adderall and coconut water until i felt like i tracked enough, then pop a xanax and start drinking to bring my body to a screeching halt when the sun came up.

and for all the nerds out there: i used an sm7b for all the vocals, played the guitars through a fender twin reverb and a blown-out fender solid state amp, and i recorded most of the drum takes into a tascam 4-track.

i kept the air conditioner off because it was obviously loud as hell, and i think my body reached its peak temperature that week.  i definitely had a moment where i realized the album had to be called humid as an ode to the remarkable amount of sweat my body released while tracking drums.

one of my favorite tracks on humid is “milo and me,” in part due to the noodling guitar lines and in part due to its subject matter.  is there a particular backstory to that song?

oh yeah, there’s a juicy, sad story behind “milo and me.”  milo was my sister’s dog that was staying with me for a bit in the spring.  we had a great time an i got pretty attached.  about a month later, he got hit by a car and passed away.  i think that was the most depressed i’ve felt about a beloved animal passing away.

on a lighter note, i was listening to a lot of 10cc and sheer mag over the past year, and that’s definitely where the guitar riffs came from.

you seem comfortable in, and with exploring, myriad vocal registers.  are there specific artist you’ve taken cues from while working on this project?

with recording humid, i had a lot more time to experiment with vocal performances and production.  i think that gave me the space to find new registers, but there’s definitely some production trickery in there.  i was messing around with varispeed (changing the tempo and pitch of the song) and was just discovering the magic of double vocal tracks and auto double-tracking.

as far as other artists go, todd rundgren was a big influence and kind of always has been.  also, connan mockasin was a big vocal influence as far as experimentation goes.

humid is out now via forged artifacts.  take a listen to the entire album below.

interview – pastel

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

Last month, gabriel brenner released the latest extended play under his pastel moniker.  the los angeles-based artist uses the five songs that span absent, just dust to examine a concept of native erasure that is both familial and personal, a desire that stemmed from myriad recent events.

those familiar with pastel’s earlier work might anticipate another offering of celestial r&b; instead, the intimacy and vulnerability of this project’s subject matter necessitated a shift into a more ambient, experimental realm.  brenner’s commanding lead vocal still haunts tracks, like the standout cut “silhouette,” but absent, just dust is often shrouded in ominous pulses and static found sounds, a malleable canvas onto which brenner can interpret a bevy of emotions.

we were fortunate to catch up with brenner recently via e-mail and discuss all things absent, just dust: from compositional approach to an integration of visual art to brenner’s preference for shorter bodies of work.  a lightly-edited transcript, along with a full stream of the extended play, is presented below.

this new ep is a pretty explicit exploration of erasure.  what was the catalyst to delve into this personal topic?

i recently graduated from the art program at ucla, and i spent much of my last year there making video works largely surrounding my relationship with my native heritage.  these were ideas that i had spent a few years trying to work out (i tried sculpture, poetry, etc), and it just seemed to click with video.

this also happened to be around the same time that the nodapl resistance started gaining national attention.  there was a livestream video that a journalist had set up on facebook one night, showing militarized police cornering water protectors on a bridge, throwing tear gas at them, and spraying them with a water cannon in subzero temperatures.  i felt such a multitude of emotions, but i couldn’t quite put them into words.  or, rather, words just didn’t suffice.

in trying to understand my heritage, i’ve continually arrived at a similar loss.  i’m pima on my mother’s side and cherokee on my father’s.  neither side of my family knows much, if anything, about our people and culture, and it’s largely because of a long history of atrocities like this.  at base, so much of art is about making new language, and when the language wasn’t there for me, it made sense to process this through art, and later, music.

absent, just dust is also a bit of a sonic departure for you.  did the thematic material you explore necessitate the shift, or did the shift lead you to explore this thematic material?

it was a bit of both.  i had made the foundation for “haunt” and “silhouette” two years prior to the release, and sat on the music for so long because it was such a sonic departure for me.  it didn’t make sense with the rest of the music i had released prior and i didn’t know what to do with it.  when i started making the videos, the music suddenly made sense when placed within a similar conceptual framework.  from there, i started making the rest of the ep, and it continued to follow in the same sonic footsteps.


i think your project could be described as audio/visual, what with the photo book that accompanied bone-weary and the general thought and care that goes into the design of your cassettes.  how do you approach integrating photography and fine art with your music to create a cohesive whole?

i think because i come from a contemporary art background, i tend to think of music projects as visual art projects, too.  i think of the cassettes as art objects, and thus think it’s equally important that the visuals communicate nuanced, poetic ideas like the music.  i want listeners to know what i’m talking about in my music, and they can’t know deeply if the visuals are communicating something different than the music.

many, if not all, of your releases have been either standalone singles or extended plays.  do you find yourself gravitating towards a shorter format for any particular reason?

i’ve always been enamored by artists that can say a lot with very little.  it’s the difference between félix gonzález-torres and someone like matthew barney.  félix can communicate more to me with just a few light bulbs than barney can in five grandiose feature-length films because félix allows me ample space to sit with the particulars.

i think i always work towards a-lot-with-a-little because it’s so effective.  i’m also aware that my music asks for quite a bit of patience from the listener because it doesn’t reveal itself all too quickly.  i contemplated turning absent, just dust into a full length, but i couldn’t imagine asking a listener to sit even longer with a work that already felt a bit like an endurance piece at just five tracks.

to that end, do you anticipate releasing a full-length in the near future?

i guess it depends; if the work calls for a full-length, then it will be a full-length!  but i do think it’s long overdue, so we’ll see.

this ep is very heavy thematically and that weight manifests itself frequently in the arrangements, but i get an occasional sense of serenity, at least musically.  did making absent, just dust feel cathartic at any point?

“stammer” definitely felt cathartic to make.  i basically just hit record and started singing, and then worked with what i had.  the track is largely about the struggle to communicate without the right words, and letting my voice unfold to fill in the gaps was pretty freeing.

half of all proceeds made from absent, just dust will be donated to freshet collective, an organization providing legal services to the water protectors at standing rock.  a handful of cassettes are still available for purchase through pastel’s bandcamp, where digital versions of his entire catalogue can also be procured.

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