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waldemar

photo courtesy of j scott kunkel

gabe larson is an amiable guy.  the kind of guy who greets visitors with a smile and a hearty hug at the doorway; the kind of guy whose bevy of anecdotes are instantaneously vivid and relatable; the kind of guy whose sheer warmth is analogous to the steaming cup of coffee proffered ahead of a candid, hour-long interview.

larson was born in los angeles but has lived in eau claire, wisconsin, for much of his life, absorbing a midwestern culture and work ethic that permeates the gorgeous collages of sound he creates as waldemar.  the sprawling, bucolic textures of his visions ep – self-released last friday – are populated by affecting guitar melodies, improvisatorial horn arrangements, and walls of layered vocals, but an intensely personal, familial story about grappling with mental wellness is what especially resonates.

waldemar was cautiously – and privately – culled from the ashes of larson’s previous project, reverii, whose unexpected and abrupt finality heavily shook his confidence as a songwriter.  as he slowly reconstructed his artistry, larson also began confronting a multi-generational battle with depression, drawing parallels between the life of his paternal grandfather and his own.

what results is a mixture of confessional and observational; the four songs on visions build slowly and with purpose, an analog to larson’s own self-actualization as an artist and a reflection of how his outwardly genial personality can mesh with a more serious internal struggle.  side one standout “brotherly” is constructed on a warm pad of choral harmonies before spilling over into something more percussive, while closing number “signe” is also the project’s most ambitious cut, swirling every aspect of the waldemar aesthetic into a dense, ever-evolving soundscape.

visions was recorded throughout the early months of 2016 in eau claire with the help of larson’s younger brother, nick, and a host of local producers and instrumentalists.  in october, gabe and i sat in his kitchen for over an hour, nursing cups of coffee and tea while discussing all things waldemar.  the partial transcript below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

how soon after things with reverii wound down did you come to the realization that you wanted to do waldemar as a project?  what was the impetus behind that concept?

reverii ended at this really brutal crux in my life; within that time period i hadn’t even been graduated from school for a year, didn’t really have much of a job – just bouncing around all of these different part-time jobs.  i had a job as a painter for a guy in eau claire for awhile and i remember being in all of these houses staring longingly out the windows while i put tape on everything. it was this really difficult period of life where i was recently graduated and had no clue what i wanted to do; i knew i wanted to do music after i graduated, but then this band that was supposed to be the way i was going to do music ended and i was left with nothing.

that was the setting for everything, and i had to take time away from even touching music. eventually, i got to this point where i just had to write a song, and there were no expectations attached to it; i didn’t need to show it to anybody, no one had to know i was doing it.  it was just for me.

the song that ended up coming out of that process was a song called “waldemar,” and it was a song about my grandpa, wally, who lived with my family for two or three years up until he died.  he was a farmer who lived in minnesota, and he was this personification of depression for me. he was this very quiet guy who seemed, maybe not grumpy, but serious and sad – just kind of a hard person to be close to.

in stark contrast was my mother’s dad, my grandpa kermit, who was the most loving, friendliest guy ever; we spent tons of time with him, and he and i were very close.  so, from a young age i could completely perceive this stark contrast between the two of them.  i’d ask my dad why wally was the way he was, and he would respond, “oh, he has depression.  he’s depressed.”

so i was this eight year-old kid getting my first example of this thing called “depression,” and i’d later learn that it’s this thing that runs in the family tree, like being prone to a heart attack or cancer – which my family is also prone to (laughs).  i’ve got it on both sides; i’m probably going to die of a heart attack with diabetes and be clinically depressed.  you have to laugh, or else you’ll cry.

i wrote this song about waldemar exploring ways you can be connected to people you were never close with, you know.  i never wound up going to the doctor to figure out if i was clinically depressed – my dad was trying to get me to go – but for some reason i just wouldn’t.  i think i just didn’t want to know.  i wanted to have this hope that i’d come out of this funk and be okay, to not have to face any stark reality of having to carry this with me for the rest of my life.

the song was about my grandpa, but it was also about me and how i was wrestling this bout of depression.  nobody knew that i wrote this song – i was writing it for me – but the song felt really good and honest because of that; it was a very pure writing experience. it’s very hard to write a song without thinking about your audience or how it will be critically received, but none of that was in my mind; it was just what felt right.

do you see a big difference between the music written for reverii and the music written for waldemar?   what’s the biggest shift in your approach to songwriting?

both bands sound quite a bit different to me; even the way that i sang with reverii versus the way i sing with waldemar sounds like two different singers to me.  which is weird, because i don’t feel like i was trying to do anything with my voice in either project.

i think the difference comes down to the songwriting process.  i’ve relied on other people, up to this point, far less with waldemar than I did with reverii.  i would come up with ideas but was pretty timid about them in a lot of ways; it would have to pass through a filter.  with waldemar, i’m listening mostly just to myself with how the songs take shape.

but that’s been changing a lot lately, especially over the last six months when we started recording this record.  my brother nick is a super gifted songwriter.  he played bass in reverii, but wasn’t really part of the core group of songwriters.  he was super young when he was in that band – i think a senior year in high school.  he’s gotten more involved in the songwriting process at the ground level when i’m just starting to work on a song.  he’ll be in the room with me and act as a sounding board, or just affirm an idea.  sometimes it’s nice to have a person around whose musical opinion you trust.  he and i have been treading into co-writing territory lately with waldemar stuff.

lyrically and conceptually, waldemar is mostly informed by personal and familial experiences, but aesthetically, there’s reference to a choral background; what else do you lean on?  these songs are very ornately arranged and dense.  what are you using as a jumping off or reference point?

when i’m really into writing mode i try to clear my palate and not listen to any music.  there’s been times where i’ll listen to a song that inspires me to write, and the finished product clearly reflects that inspiration.  so i try to clear my brain as much as possible to just be listening to myself, if that makes sense.

the way that i think about music is very much informed by my experience with classical and choral music.  you’ll never catch me in the kitchen doing dishes to mozart, but my mom had me in piano lessons as a kid.  piano always has so many parts working together to create one thing – even more so than a lot of other instruments.  you have ten fingers that can play different notes at different times and be moving in melody and harmony – even more so than what you can do with a guitar.

i’ve been in a choir since i was six all the way through college.  the past two years have been the first of my conscious life that i haven’t been in choir, and that’s shaped the way i think about music; i think in terms of layers, and the ways that different textures, timbres, pitches, melodies and harmonies can work together to create one sound.

i’ve performed way more with a choir than i ever have with a band, and have spent more hours in rehearsal with a choir than i ever have with a band, still, just because most of my life has been spent in a choir.  i think that’s a pretty inescapable part of the way i think about music.  it’s hard for me to say that it’s an influence, per se, but it’s the way i grew up thinking about music.

i think a lot of bands try not to list their influences because they want to be thought of as this total unique thing; i try to not shy away from that totally, just in the interest of recognizing that all of art is some sort of weird remix, in a way.  you as an individual have this own unique collection of influences mixed with your own creativity, which then becomes your own contribution to the world.

i was pretty late to the game on the national.  trouble will find me is now one of my favorite records, but i really only started getting into the national within the last year.  i don’t think i’ve had enough time with that band to name it as an influence for me, but some things i hear in waldemar are these layers and depth that seem inspired by the national.

i also hear elements of my morning jacket’s the waterfall.  something that i love about jim james’ vocal style is that there are times where he just doesn’t seem to care what he sounds like.  he doesn’t mind the sound of clipped-out vocals, and there are times when the vocals just aren’t in tune.  with my choral background, there are times where i just can’t stand that, but there’s something about the way jim james does it that i absolutely love.  there are some vocals in “signe” that are totally inspired by what jim james does on the waterfall.

Waldemar Headshot - Andrew Nepsund

photo courtesy of j scott kunkel

who else was involved with the recording process?

both of our producers – evan middlesworth and brian joseph – were huge in the recording process in terms of refinement.  my good friend andrew thoreen, who’s in this great minneapolis band har-di-har – as well as in j.e. sunde and just generally all over the place right now – recorded all the trombone arrangements that are on the record.

evan performed some minor parts – well, i shouldn’t say minor – he wrote some bass lines on the record that are just creamy.  he’s great at being like “hey, this isn’t working; you should try this” and doing it in a way that doesn’t make you feel stupid.  and his suggestions are spot-on.  prior to recording with evan, he had hired me on as an engineer out at pine hollow, so we had gotten the chance to work on records and develop some artistic chemistry together.  it’s so important to have a great level of trust with the person you’re working with.

brian has his own studio called the hive, and it’s gorgeous.  brian and evan are both two different types of musicians and producers; evan is very instinctual with decisions, which is super helpful, while brian really saturates himself in the sound and really thinks through the nitty-gritty.  that’s how i think, so going through the mixes was a really long process.  we went through mix revisions for awhile.

did you record some tracks with evan and some with brian, or were they taking independent looks at the same tracks?

evan engineered everything – well, almost everything.  ten percent of the tracking actually happened here at home, mostly vocals and some random guitar bits as well.  all of the tracking was done before it ever went to brian; evan did some standard reference mixes, and it was sounding great before it ever hit brian, who then took over and the songs came to life even more. 

i basically handed over the reference mixes to brian and gave him zero direction.  i wanted him to really approach it with an artist’s mind and not be thinking about what i wanted it to sound like. i wanted him to present me with different ideas for how everything can sound, and then i’d listen and pick and choose.  i had my idea of how everything should sound, and i wanted his work to either confirm the ideas i originally had or to present me with something i never would have thought of.  we went back and forth with that model for about two and a half months.

the four songs on this release are kind of long.  it feels like a more significant body of work than just your customary introductory ep.

yeah, visions tops out at just about thirty minutes.  track-wise, it looks like an ep; lengthwise, it’s toeing the line between ep and lp. 

the ep itself is split into two halves, in a lot of ways.  “totem” and “brotherly” are pretty old songs; they were kind of from the reverii days.  “visions” and “signe” were written within six to eight months of recording.  

the last two are much more in the vein of where waldemar is headed, whereas “totem” and “brotherly” are kind of these artifacts, the skeleton of reverii.  the sound of reverii with a waldemar spin.  i’m not trying to distance myself from them, but they don’t feel like waldemar songs as much, in a way.  i don’t think they’d work in the context of a waldemar full-length.

when did you switch from calling the initial song “waldemar” to ascribing that name to the project itself?  was there a specific moment, or was it more of a gradual absorption?

that’s a great question.  i’m not trying to be some sort of mysterious artist, but honestly, i’m still trying to figure out the answer to that question myself.  the short of it is that somehow, at some point, it just felt like that’s what it had to be called; this is what it needs to be.  there’s something under the surface within me now that feels drawn towards this name, that feels that this is what the project needs to be called.

it feels strange that this band isn’t called kermit, after the grandfather i’m super close with.  he was dying of cancer during the first tour we did with waldemar, and we had to cancel one of our last shows to go be with him.  he ended up dying a week later.  it was strange being on that tour – named after a guy we weren’t close with – meanwhile, the other grandfather – who we were close with – was dying.

in some ways, i wonder if i’m trying to reclaim this legacy of my grandpa wally that feels not anywhere close to the legacy kermit left.  am i trying to redefine what his name means to me?  i don’t know.

when i hear the name wally – or waldemar – i see the face of depression, in a weird way.  i currently battle depression all the time, so sometimes i wonder if the reason i named my band after him was some way of facing one of my greatest vices. in some way, the name “waldemar” describes me; it’s like looking at your vice square in the face.

i think we carry with us a lot of hurt, shame, and problems, and the only way to heal from those is to bring them to light and call them what they are.  for me, it’s depression, but there’s a myriad of things that other people wrestle with.  a lot of times i think we just silently carry those around, and i’m of the opinion that true healing can only take place when things are brought to light,talked about, and wrested with intentionally.  maybe naming the band waldemar is some sort of therapeutic way of naming this struggle overall, of looking at it straight in the face and doing battle with.

that’s one thing i’ve been pondering.

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tycho-epoch

ghostly international

“album of the fortnight” is a new 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: tycho.

the public’s perception of scott hansen’s work as tycho has, up until september 30th, been primarily informed by two studio albums: 2011’s dive and 2014’s awake.  sure, there’s his 2006 debut, past is prologue, but that album feels like a true prologue, just a hint of the aesthetic hansen would soon craft.

dive is aqueous, spacious, patient enough to allow monolithic soundscapes to emerge from subterranean depths.  echoes of chillwave inevitably reverberate off of the album’s cavernous confines, but dive feels primarily concerned with absorbing and retaining as much potential energy as possible.  hansen then released that energy in kinetic form on awake; the acquisition of drummer rory o’connor, kept on retainer by ghostly international before becoming a full-fledged member of tycho, propelled the octet of songs considerably, toying with polyrhythms and busy subdivisions while still letting pockets of ambience bleed into the texture.

it’s fitting, then, that hansen has been so forthcoming about cherry-picking the best of both constructed worlds and inserting them into his latest full-length, epoch.  tycho’s fourth album is an even split between ambient and kinetic, meting out wondrous, pulsating exercises while simultaneously expanding the project’s more pensive arm to turn in thoughtful, incredibly measured interludes as counterpoint.

tycho lauren crew 2.jpg

photo courtesy of lauren crew

“glider” percolates, “division” stutters, synths on “local” slowly swallow a trebly guitar motif; action verbs are a dime a dozen throughout epoch, a clear-eyed realization of hansen’s near-decade of work.  central melodic figures feel less and less important, as cacophony and fugue structure are more necessary to achieve such a massive, continuous wall of sound.

o’connor’s drumming throughout epoch is an explicit force to be reckoned with.  much of the album’s true nuances don’t present themselves as such, as blistering, metronomic sub-divisions and deft polyrhythmic misdirections are hard to miss.  percussion is the key ingredient to tycho’s secret recipe; epoch reads closer to a rock record than anything else in hansen’s canon, a transformation that can be largely attributed to o’connor’s near-perpetual residence in the foreground of each song’s mix.

epoch has been billed as a dark chapter in the chronicle of tycho, though this ominous tone is, at times, difficult to discern.  maybe it lurks deeper in the shadows, a covert operative.  for those not intimately invested in its creation, epoch reads more like the sunset that can be interpreted from its album artwork: a twilight performance with a final burst of energy before a long, pensive period of hibernation.  perhaps tycho will venture into more overtly murky territory in the future; for now, let epoch soundtrack the waning moments of your day.

 –

tycho live press.jpg

photo courtesy of the artist

scott hansen’s most recent full-length effort under his tycho moniker, 2014’s awake, is a sonic diary outfitted for westward treks via automobile to watch the sun set behind a bank of mountains.  the album’s eight tracks are a perfect union of post-rock grandeur and cascading ambient soundscapes, a mesh of motion and meditation.  after nearly two years of touring endlessly in support of awake, hansen returned home and slowed the project down earlier this year, intent on recording a new album.

it’s not clear if “epoch” is the impending album’s title track, but tycho’s latest single is described as indicative of a darker sonic evolution hansen sees his project taking.  “epoch” still resonates as anthemic – or, more accurately, multiple anthems stacked atop one another to eventually achieve blissful cacophony – but there are enough brooding undercurrents in the track’s murky bass line and hesitant, melancholic synth figures packed in as well to give it a distinctly ominous tone that hasn’t really existed this prominently in tycho’s music before.

the follow-up to awake is gestating; there’s no word on a title or a release date, but the new album will most likely appear sometime next year, probably on tycho’s longtime home, ghostly international.  for now, spend some time with “epoch,” below.

seeyouathomeblue

photo courtesy of the artist

the prescient arrival of the future’s here & it’s terrible was hard to ignore.  2016 had already registered as an extraordinarily bleak year, but the ep – the second from dream-pop duo see you at home – came on the cusp of a defeating and volatile summer, one that’s still in full-swing.  see you at home confronts that bleakness head-on titularly and attempts to reconcile with it sonically, crafting intimate sketches that pulse slowly, allowing for ample introspection amidst sparse guitar soundscapes.  we recently caught up with the duo to talk about their nascent project and longstanding friendship.  check out the transcript below.

see you at home is a relatively new project, at least from a consumer’s perspective.  could you detail a bit of history behind the band?  how long have you two been making music together?

we’ve been playing music for quite a long while now; both of us have known each other since we were four years old, and we’ve been making music together since we were fourteen.  we had another band before this, but eventually that broke apart when some of us went to uni and got jobs.  see you at home kind of spawned when my (josh’s) uni timetable gave me a day off in the week and i decided to try and make some lo fi songs in a bathroom.  it was literally just a guitar and an 808 drum for the beat, and we liked the sound of it so we decided to expand on the idea.

your songs are incredibly intimate and feel effortless in their execution, the byproduct of what must be a very fruitful collaboration.  can you speak a bit on your songwriting process, and if you notice any clear benefits to working as a duo?

thank you so much!  the effortlessness is a product of layers and layers of obsessive production on my (josh’s) end, haha, and then the cool, calm-headed musical ear of arthur.  i would spend hours trying to get certain sounds to come through in the mix properly (to the point of insanity) and then arthur comes in to fix any doubts.  that’s definitely the main benefit for me for working in a duo; it’s hard to tell if a song is good or terrible having worked on it for so long, like when you hear a word too much and it doesn’t sound like a real word anymore. 

a lot of the collaboration and musicality comes from us knowing each other for basically our whole lives, i think.  when we jam out our songs we can usually get into a pretty cool flow quite easily because we share a similar mindset musically.  in terms of our songwriting process, i think it’s quite muddled.  we’ll usually stitch together thoughts and lyrics we’ve had at various points in our life that have a similar theme to try and create coherent songs from honest, sometimes scattered emotions.

titularly, the tone of your two eps couldn’t be more different.  was your collective headspace noticeably different while writing the material for the future’s here & it’s terrible than it was for everything is okay?

definitely.  there was a big shift in our collective emotions going through both eps.  i guess for the first ep we had just left uni and the world felt free and open and we were, to an extent, positive.  the second ep, a few months later, was a shift in tone when we realized the stark reality of real life, haha.  that said, a lot of the underlying themes in everything is okay were still quite sorrowful, but i feel like the way we handled those feelings was with a more optimistic outlook than the second ep.

what five songs would constitute the perfect see you at home mixtape?

ooh, that is a tough question.  there are so many songs that we’d love to put on the mixtape, haha.  i’d say that we’d go for the following eclectic mix, some of which we’ve drawn on for inspiration, and others which have resonated with us at various times in the last couple of years.

deptford goth – “feel real”
la dispute – “nine”
bon iver – “holocene”
brand new – “jesus christ”
julien baker – “sprained ankle”

at the rate you’ve been releasing music, a new ep could potentially surface before the year’s end, but that expectation is admittedly presumptuous.  are there any concrete plans for more see you at home material at this time?

at the moment we’re trying to sort out our live set, as we’d love to do some gigs, but we absolutely want to put out as much music as possible.  while there’s no definitive timeline, we are busy trying to make some skeleton tracks and demos.

both everything is okay and the future’s here & it’s terrible are available to stream and purchase from see you at home’s bandcamp page.  both actions are highly recommended; the duo’s compact catalogue serves as a much-needed refuge from life’s unsavory portions.  indulge.

The Antlers Burst Apart

frenchkiss records

*this column has long lay dormant, and is truthfully being resurrected primarily to celebrate the fifth anniversary of one of the most important albums to this site and its existence.  maybe subsequent additions will be made, and maybe not; that’s the beauty of complete autonomy.

peter silberman’s music under the moniker of the antlers first appeared in 2006.  his sparse confessionals, punctuated by a hushed falsetto developed and honed partially out of necessity, populated early efforts like the eerie in the attic of the universe; by 2009, silberman had added multi-instrumentalist darby cicci and drummer michael lerner and had offered up hospice, an undeniable pillar of twenty-first century indie rock and one of the most devastating concept albums ever recorded.

throughout the record, silberman alters between tender reassurances whispered at a metaphorical terminal patient’s bedside and heart-wrenching frustrations vented at full volume out in the hallway, a dichotomy compounded by percussion crescendos and thick walls of keyboard textures.  hospice is an emotionally exhausting album, and following up a body of work with that critical of a magnitude is a tall order.

turn the calendar ahead two years and enter burst apart.  the antlers’ second full-length as a full band is sonically the furthest thing possible from a sequel to hospice; the trio goes spelunking in the cavernous depths of spooky, spacious tracks like “parentheses” and “rolled together,” while silberman’s guitar work is decidedly more minimal, more inclined to add texture with cyclical motifs and arpeggios rather than to function as the driving force behind most songs.

perhaps due to their initial involvement in the album’s creation, cicci and lerner feel less supplemental on burst apart.  the former’s trumpet chops are consistently underrated but integral to the trio’s timbral construct, not to mention his celestial synth pads, while the latter’s drum kit is a forceful presence on all tracks, save penultimate ballad “corsicana.”  consequentially, the album retains a fully collaborative air, with the intense lyrical depth and cohesion of hospice funneled into an incredibly tight ensemble interplay that could be (and often was) extended effortlessly in a live setting.


on record, burst apart tends to steer clear of the post-rock grandeur that makes its predecessor feel so gargantuan.  inner demons are often exorcised with the assistance of a murky, hypnotic pulse and their significance is sussed out under the guise of haunting chamber pop; no track on burst apart exceeds the six-minute mark, and most conform to radio-play length.

this more streamlined approach also found silberman largely abandoning his penchant for detailed narrative.  such instances were doled out judiciously and to great effect (see his tear-jerking return to metaphor on closing number “putting the dog to sleep”), but cryptic minimalism often reigns supreme, from the aforementioned “parentheses” to the stoned, slow-burning “rolled together” to “hounds,” the most arresting, flat-out beautiful five minutes of burst apart.

five years on, burst apart endures.  each of its ten tracks is commendable in its own right; if nothing else, they’re stellar examples of the trio’s ability to write pristine, focused pop songs within the relative confines of their sonic climate.  new listens constantly yield new discoveries, from the presence of some truly interesting, murky bass lines to the impressive mandolin work that silberman routinely slides into unassuming tracks.

burst apart is a clear touchstone for the antlers’ subsequent output; the watery organ in “putting the dog to sleep” foreshadows the aqueous and astounding 2012 ep, undersea, while the overall orchestration hints at the majesty that would fully bloom on 2014’s familiars.  much like hospice, this is an album best-suited for nocturnal consumption, but unlike its predecessor, burst apart doesn’t necessarily demand isolation.

peter silberman’s lyrics are arguably paramount to the antlers’ canon; on burst apart, his bandmates match that poignancy with some truly mesmerizing compositions.  dig in.