Æ: Aglet Eaters

Interview: Meet Drowner.

Posted in Discover by R on July 28, 2011

They’re a new band, but my gosh they’ve got some PR skillz behind them. Only a day or two after I received word of Drowner‘s existence (it’s called a Press Release), they were all over the place! And by ‘all over the place’ I mean ‘all over Facebook’ with links to their songs being posted left, right and centre by the Shoegaze Elite.

Ye gads! Who is this mysterious band?! Before I’d even heard the EP I’d made a list of all the questions I wanted to ask (you’ll notice we get into the swing of things quite rapidly). Anyway, there’s not much for me to comment on regarding Drowner and its components, since they’ll do most of the talking in a moment. I’m just going to take a minute to tell you about the music.

Drowner remind me a lot of this other band I wrote about a couple of years ago called The Vacant Lots. Both bands seem to have received some sort of specialist training in the finer aspects of Gestalt theory. The reason my first question is what it is is because I was hesitant to assume Drowner was a duo owing to their ability to generate a sound that was larger than themselves. I’ve asked then about equipment in case you, like me, were left a bit dumbfounded as to how they achieved such an enormous sound, and hopefully it helps out the more techy, geeky, musiciany among you. I’ve even asked them if it’s just them on the album! Subtlety be thy name. Their EP which is titled … *drumroll* … Drowner EP is out now on iTunes and elsewhere. If you click on its name you’ll be able to get it. Wow, modern technology, new media, virtualisation, marvellous. Now, not to detract attention from the peeps themselves, here’s your Guide to Drowner:

Hello there! I’m going to start with the most important question in the world: Who are you?

Darren: I’m Darren Emanuel. I mainly play guitar in the band and, for now, some of the other instruments as well. I was most recently in Swimming In and released a shoegaze/trip hop collaboration last year called Apples to Earth. I had written some of the Drowner songs by last year and worked on them with a couple of different vocalists, but nothing really gelled. I happened to mention this to Anna Bouchard, and she composed some lyrics and immediately brought a new depth and lyricism to the songs that turned out to be exactly right for the project.
Anna: Hi, I’m Anna Bouchard, and I am the vocalist for Drowner.

Have you been around long? How did you meet?

Anna: We’ve known each other for a long time but only last year did we talk about collaborating on a music project together.

Your songs sound very elaborate and professional. Is it only the two of you on all your recordings, or do you have friends or extra personnel show up now and then?

Darren: It is only the two of us right now. I enjoy playing a lot of instruments, but it will be nice to get input from someone who really knows what they are doing on drums and bass. We are talking about adding more people to the lineup, possibly by the time we get to the second E.P.
Anna: To Darren’s credit, we sound like a much bigger band than we are.
Darren: And Anna sings a great deal as well, sometimes contributing up to 35 vocal lines to one song.

There must be some fellow musicians and/or music geeks among us – can you tell me about your instruments and, if applicable, hardware and software of choice?

Darren: I use a great 8 bus mixer by Topaz made in the UK for all of the tracking, along with a Tascam 8 channel tape machine from the early 80’s. We make extensive use of the Roland Space Echo while tracking and even for reverb when we mix. It’s so much fun to use and always surprises us. We use a Fender guitar, a Wurlitzer 200A piano — Anna plays a bit of Moog synth on “Wildflowers” — a Fender cabinet on guitar and piano, and we use an obscure guitar amp called an ASI 125. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen, but I loved the way it sounded the first time I heard it. If anyone knows anything about it, let me know. I can’t even get a Google hit about it!
This is the first record I’ve done where I didn’t use Pro Tools or Cubase, but rather did all the tracking and mixing in Ableton Live. For mixing I use a Universal Audio DSP card with the Fairchild, 1176, LA2A, EMT, CL-1 and Pultec plugins.

What’s the story with you label Two Words Records? How did it come to be?

Darren: Tim Black and I started Two Words Records back in 2001 to release some downtempo electronic stuff. We eventually moved from CDs to digital downloads over the years and right now the label is mostly dormant with the exception of helping out a bit with Drowner’s release.

Have you performed live much? What are your favourite venues/haunts?

Darren: We are really focused on our sound and songwriting right now.

The shoegaze scene at the moment is pretty tight, I think; I doubt there’s more than 2 degrees of separation within it. Do you have any fellow shoegaze bandfriends? Do we know them?

Darren: We’ve made a lot of friends in the shoegaze scene since we released the record, and it’s been a very warm reception, but that’s a better question for Anna…
Anna: Well, I don’t know if I can call them friends in the traditional sense of the word, but I have had some great interactions online with some outstanding musicians in the shoegaze scene: Mikkel Borbjerg Jakobsen of The Foreign Resort, Matt Etherton of Presents for Sally, Andrew Saks of Sway, Paul Lopez of Spell 336, Perry Pelonero and Kim Welch of Morpheme and bliss.city.east, Francois de Benedetti of Data Unit, Danny Lackey and Barbie Watkins of Deepfieldview, Cory Osborne of Lightfoils, and, of course, Danny Panjwaneey of //orangenoise.

Album? Tour? Christmas Single?

Darren: We are mixing a new single for release later this summer and we’re very excited about it. We also have a video for “Written” that should be out in the next few weeks.
Anna: The single is just incredible! Can’t wait to release it.

Any favourite second-wave shoegaze bands?

Darren: The scene right now is just fantastic! So much talent. I’ve been listening a lot to Crocodiles, Daysleepers, Malory and Hammock, but my favorite second wave is The Sleepover Disaster. They really write great songs and have a big sound. I think they have a new record coming out soon, so I’m looking forward to that.
Anna: Besides some of the bands I mentioned previously — I second Darren’s choice of Hammock and Malory, and I also love moonbell, The Fauns, Slowness, Auburn Lull and port-royal.

Message for your fans? Have you noticed that you have QUITE A FEW?

Darren: Thanks for supporting what we do and keep in touch, there’s a lot more coming up.
Anna: Love to you guys! The energy we’ve been feeling from you is what keeps us going, day and night. You’re the best.

Disclaimer: No band names were edited for spelling, Anna just knows how //orangenoise and port-royal their name to be presented. #props

Reminder: In case you missed it the first time, Drowner EP can be picked up here.

This Was Tomorrow – An Interview With Sway

Posted in Album, Discover by R on July 1, 2011

Back in 2010 when Sway first released the followup to the now classic Millia Pink and Green EP, I offered to review it for him on this here blog. Many a draft was started, but I wasn’t quite able to express the everything about This Was Tomorrow that made it so special. This Was Tomorrow‘s USP is its complete and utter departure from The Millia Pink and Green and this has, unsurprisingly, left a few of the old-school gazers confused. Me, I see Millia Pink and Green and This Was Tomorrow as entirely different, uncomparable pieces of work. However I think think the poor purists would like an explanation. So putting my electrogaze tendencies aside I decide to ask The Man Himself (hi Andrew!) a few Qs about the album so we can get all your perplexedness cleared up.

I’m quite happy I took so long to get around to this because just last month, Sway signed up to Saint Marie Records and so This Was Tomorrow had a fresh release on the 7th of June this year. That’s enough excitement and goings-on in the Life of Sway to make up an entire interview, I thought. So here you go:

The St. Marie Records signing was something like 6 months after you independently released This Was Tomorrow. What’s the story behind that? Is TWT going to be out in many formats? CD, Vinyl, tape, 8-track… Also what would you consider the official release date?

This Was Tomorrow was initially intended to be a “digital only” release via iTunes, Bandcamp, etc. I really only wanted to have it out in that format as I’m very much on-board with the idea of digital distribution of music. I love it. I totally understand the desires of many music fans that want a tangible copy of an album, but for me the most important thing is getting people to hear my music in the easiest and most convenient way possible. I really kind of feel that compact discs are on the way out. The album actually was released as a download only in November of 2010, and a couple of months after the release Saint Marie Records hit me up to do a CD release of the album. I had received so many emails asking about when TWT would be released on CD that I was planning to do a special limited run, and the Saint Marie offer came just in time. So, for now, you have TWT as a digital download and a CD. I suppose I consider June 7th, 2011 to be the official release…

TWT is totally different from The Millia Pink & Green EP. I know there’ve been some “you’ve abandoned us!” reactions from the purists because (I think) it’s far more electrogaze than classic shoegaze. Much more digital than analog. I’m just speculating it was the 8-bitter in you that compelled you to make the record. You know better so tell me – what were you thinking about when you made each record?

Well, when I guess it’s pretty obvious that my influences are bands like Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, etc. When we did The Millia Pink and Green, I wanted to do a very swirly album that would set us apart mostly from a lot of stuff that was going on locally here on the West coast (US). At that time, there really weren’t many bands doing the kind of stuff we were around here, and I really wanted to do something that would be just a million miles away from all of the other albums coming out.
I have always been obsessed with things that sound lost and blurry in music. Things that sound beautiful but strange, that’s why I was drawn to dreampop early on. I always loved Enya and ethereal sounding stuff, and I like my pop music that way too.
With The Millia P&G, I was just looking to make a blurry, floaty, windy EP that would be a reminder of what Sway was doing live at the time. When people came to our shows (we played a lot back then, believe it or not) they would usually be somewhat confused by the sounds we were putting out and I’m sure wondered if most of it were intentionally done, you know? So, this was like a reminder or proof that, yeah, we actually made music that sounded that way, and meant to.

I’ve always been a gamer. All of the Sway kids were. We all grew up with Atari and Nintendo stuff. There is something about 8-bit sounds and all that, that really gets my nostalgia machine working. For me, part of the whole dreampop thing is this weird nostalgic daydream feeling that’s induced by swirly guitars. I realized a few years ago that those retro game sounds also have the same effect on me, perhaps even more so, so I had to squeeze them in there. In my opinion, it totally works. I’m not trying to abandon all of the people that are faithful to the textbook shoegaze sounds or anything, I just feel there’s room for new sounds in this “genre”. I’m actually kinda bummed that it’s far easier for most bands these days to more or less emulate Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine twenty years later and have people eat it up. That bugs me. I honestly love the classics and steal from them all day long in my own way, but I constantly feel pressured to not go too far when it comes to borrowing from them and their sounds or songwriting. TWT is a dreampop album that uses plenty of my influences, and adds some new stuff that you might not expect for this kind of music. It’s good to mix it up a bit. I think if people give this album a real listen, they’ll appreciate it more. I made this for the listeners, the people that put on headphones and like to lose themselves in the music.

What is a day in the life of Sway – are you a rockstar, an oversized kid, or just a normal 9-to-5-er?

Definitely as far from a rockstar as can be. I’m a dad, a husband, and I have a full time job at a place that is totally unrelated to music, art, or anything remotely creative at all. I’m older now, and I’m very busy and tired. I don’t love music any less than I used to. It’s torture to not have many chances these days to just create music the way I used to and took it for granted, but I still find time every now and then, and that’s fine. It will never let me achieve any huge popularity or fan base from touring and doing all the promo work that “successful” bands do, but I think I’m okay with that. I love the fact that new people are always finding out about Sway on the internet and from friends.

Even the most dedicated shoegazer likes more than just shoegaze. What completely different music does your alterego(s) like?

I honestly don’t listen to much “nugazer” stuff these days unless I’m exposed to it by friends, or people I meet or whatever. Most that I do hear though, I really like a lot! I don’t actively seek out new shoegaze bands. I do listen to all the classic stuff from time to time to feed my cravings. As far as other styles that I like, I know it may sound cliché, but I do listen to tons of jazz. My first instrument was the saxophone, and I still play every now and then. I love the freedom of jazz improvisation. I love the experimental and sometimes dissonant chord progressions of avant-garde jazz and “new thing” jazz. I also love modern “classical” composers and electronic art stuff. I like crazy Japanese noise/electronic stuff. Anime soundtracks. Minimalist classical, anything experimental and pretty. I’m not into that much electronica unless it’s ethereal and not too…electronica-ish. I grew up in the 1980s so I kind of have a soft spot for late 70s and 80s pop stuff. I have very fond memories of being a little kid and listening to my walkman all night to some of the top 40 stuff through out the mid and late eighties. I mention it a lot, but one of the reasons that I’m drawn to dreampop is memories of falling asleep with my headphones on, and waking up late at night, in a sleepy haze and hearing Pet Shop Boys or Lionel Ritchie or Swing Out Sister or something, whispering to me in my ears. I love the Beatles. I’ve always loved Michael Jackson’s music. “Human Nature” is one of my all time favorite songs. The older I get, the less I like hip, cutting edge “alternative” and “indie” music. It’s all starting to sound like noise to me now, and not so much in a good way. It’s weird but true. Is that sad, or what?

Do you want to know how I first heard about Sway? It’s not super-interesting, but I thought you might like to know since it was not thru the internet (shock!).

Sway: Hmmmm… not through the internet, huh? I’m very curious! I doubt that you took a leap of faith and bought a Sway CD from Tonevendor without a recommendation or something… or did you? A friend?

Me: Well I guess it was indirectly the internet. But I think it’s cool because I wasn’t a part of the Shoegaze Collective at the time (because it didn’t really exist to the extent it does now). I only knew a handful of shoegazers from the internet and one of them I’d known since I was in India and he lived in Australia. So a couple of years after I landed in Melbourne we worked out we weren’t too far apart and decided to meet for the first time. He’s like shoegaze bourgeoisie. I don’t know where he gets his info from but even the most thorough scouring of the internet doesn’t reveal to me the stuff he knows as soon as he knows it. He left me with a few names on our first meeting and was positively RAVING about the Millia Pink and Green. Till This Was Tomorrow I always associated Sway with “Fall” and, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s a classic now. Anyway, I think it’s pretty cool that the first time I heard about Sway was via FACE-TO-FACE CONVERSATION omg.

This Was Tomorrow needed a bit of creator input so that listeners can understand it better and see it as less of an abandonment of the classic sounds of shoegaze and more of an evolution of Sway’s own work. I called it Chillgaze when I first heard it, can we make that a genre? See if you think otherwise and pick up This Was Tomorrow here.

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