Æ: Aglet Eaters

Interactions in Installments: Her Vanished Grace Part 3

Posted in Discover by R on February 13, 2012

In the final episode of Interaction in Installments, Charlie and I chat about how a propensity for shoegaze might be innate, the exhilaration that came with the creation of ‘Passenger’, and signs of shoegaze in hip-hop and classical music. Once again I get un peu carried away and interject with a story or two of my own 🙂

It’s Sunday evening here which means I still have a few precious hours before I really switch on work mode. I don’t like Sunday evenings, really. They are very broody and introspective and meaning-of-life-ish. They’ve always made me feel a bit sombre ever since I was in school. And maaaaan, catching a plane on a Sunday evening was one of the most inexplicably depressing moments of my life.

Anyway, back to the point. You know, I agree too – shoegaze is not, or at least is more than, a genre. I’ve always been a shoegazer, so to speak, I just never realised it. It’s more a style of sensibility. A kind of musical signature or flourish that I’ve always loved and sought out regardless of the ‘genre’ of music, or its age. There are even shoegaze sensibilities in classical music and hip hop. I’ve loved shoegaze before I knew shoegaze existed. I knew it as a style of music I liked so when I found out that there was an entire ‘genre’ devoted to this kind of music I was over the moon! I guess the scene (past and current) is essentially composed of a lot of people who liked certain sounds done a certain way and decided to make songs full of them.

What’s also good for you, and others like you is the fact that you have ‘real jobs’. Well, it’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a bad thing because obvs it takes time away from you that could be used to make music, but it’s a good thing because you aren’t dependent on it to keep you afloat so you can take more liberties with your time and your music, and not worry about driving your record label bankrupt while they wait.

It also applies to the not really speaking of your work outside of the music you make even though it may be related in that it’s still in music. It does run the risk of weakening the impact of the music you make for yourself, if it starts to be associated with the more professional aspect of your life. I don’t know if that makes sense, but what I mean is that maybe music tastes the best, and is heard as the musician wants it to be heard, if the irrelevant associations are kept to a minimum. Or so I theorise.

I actually got home from work a little early (3 AM) and I’ve been wasting time on the interwebs with the cats looking happy that I’m home. I’m having the same feeling about getting back to work. I’m making up for the time that i was recording and sorting through HVG tracks. So now I’m back at  work doing exta hours this week and I miss Nancy already. I honestly got into this exclusively to create my own music but discovered that I was simultaneously good at the technical stuff and good with people, which is what producing music is mainly about. It’s a lot of pressure sometimes and being the engineer, producer and writing with people can be a little much sometimes. It’s a lot of hats to fit in my big stupid head. I’m not complaining as much as confiding. In a music journalist.

I obviously have boundary issues. 🙂

Both Nancy and I have always thought Sundays were sad, especially Sunday nights. Ever since we were kids.

It is weird how familiar shoegaze, in my case Cocteau Twins, sounded when I first heard them in Tower Records in the mid ’80s. It was one of those moments where something outside of you just seems to line up with what’s on the inside in a sudden shocking rush. When I went upstairs to the little window where they displayed what was being played, I saw it was The Pink Opaque. It was instantly familiar and utterly alien. I never realized that I was a ‘gazer till then (of course the term didn’t exist yet but the music sure did).

I think Ligeti is my choice of shoegazing classical music. I’d like to hear what you describe as shoegazing hip hop.

I know of almost nobody doing music that isn’t struggling in some way with the real job issue. I’m actually lucky to be out of the office and/ or retail environment and actually making a living doing it. As I said, I learned my craft doing my own work and I always thought I didn’t have the brain or heart space to work on other people’s stuff. But when I really got going in the situation I’m in now, I realized that it actually made my desires to actualize my own imaginings that much keener. It’s such an intense need to hear these songs come to life that I’m, beyond all logic, still doing it even through confusion and exhaustion. To have a moment like the night I wrote ‘Passenger’, standing in my underwear the living room, listening to the the demo I just recorded with the now familiar glowing guitar strums, swirling melodies, and thumping grooves, going “Now this is……amaze!” and waving my arms around. It tasted delicious and all irrelevant associations were completely forgotten.

Man I wish I could name shoegaze hip hop off the top of my head. I was thinking of how EJ Hagen of Highspire had told me about Kevin Shields being influenced by hip hop beats and how Highspire had also allowed them to affect the percussion on Aquatic. However by shoegaze influences in hip hop I mean hiphop tracks that have some of the stylings that make shoegaze shoegaze. I don’t think there are many that make use of reverb and distortion but there should be a few – probably from the 80s and 90s – that make use of the voice-as-instrument tactic which is my favourite part of shoegaze. Reverb and distort are secondary. I’m not really a fan of shoegaze where the voice stands out against the music which acts as just a backdrop. I like everything turned up equally and all instruments and vocals weaving in and out and around of each other.

My shoegazing classical music is a bit new – I was listening to it before I knew shoegaze though, but it’s the first instance of me being inexplicably drawn to a sound to the point that it broke my heart. Not because of the story behind it but because of just the way the music and vocals kept each other such equal company rising and falling and lifting each other up together. Gorecki is pretty mainstream by classical music standards I guess, but I remember it’s one of the few pieces of music my grandfather (a classical music buff) played when I was little that I just HAD to ask him about. I remember the conversation well.

Me: Nana, what is this music that’s playing?
Grandfather: It’s called ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’
Me: (remember I’m little here) She sounds so sad. Why is she singing such a sad song?
Grandfather: Because she’s about to die, wouldn’t you sing a sad song if you were about to die?

At the time this made perfect sense, and it never occurred to me to ask why I would sing any song at all if I was about to die.Anyway my grandfather didn’t play Gorecki for a while (not as legit as Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, etc.) and it gradually slipped my mind till a few years later I started having a craving for it. I couldn’t remember the melody, I just remembered how it felt and I wanted to feel it again. It was a legit craving. So I searched high and low – I could only remember ‘sad songs’ but Google was around and clever and when I searched for ‘symphony sad songs’ VOILA.

And that’s one of my first shoegaze stories 🙂 You can see I tend to give away too much too.

That was a beautiful moment with your grandfather.

It’s fascinating how our love of music is connected to our memory. This Is Your Brain On Music has some very interesting insights on this. The music we love is constantly creating and violating our expectations as we perceive its slipping through time. Our delight at these moments imprints in various parts of our brains and can somehow reemerge after being long submerged.

My grandfather was a musician and I have many fond memories of him playing music. He showed me that the piano had a universe inside of it.

As I said, I really enjoy talking to you and I so value your interest and thoughtful approach. To be honest I’ve only really in the past year started engaging with people I’ve never met in person online so I get carried away easily in conversations sometimes.

I think you will enjoy several of our new tracks in which the vocals swim and frolic among the kaleidoscopic waves of noise.

Interactions In Installments: Her Vanished Grace Part 2

Posted in Discover by R on February 3, 2012

In the first part of this  interv interaction, you saw Charles and I chatting over metaphorical cookies and tea about work, songwriting and our preferred choices of cookies and tea. Using my birthday as an excuse Charlie seized the opportunity to reiterate that they’ve been making music for as long as I’ve been alive – a point worth repeating as it launches the second part of the trilogy. Here we chat about shoegazewaves, HVG’s relationship with the scene and how songs get their personalities.

Well trust in a relationship isn’t shocking (it’s expected, innit) but Nance and you function as a unit which I think is v. cool and much more rare.

Yes, I read in the WTSH interview that you’ve been doing this for 25 years which came as a surprise to me because I know you from the ‘new’ crop of shoegazers, and not so much from the oldies (who are having a bit of a resurgence themselves, aren’t they?). You also interact a lot with the newies – Drowner, The Foreign Resort, Sway and the labels and communities as well, so even if I did know you from then, you’d have thrown me. I think this is the third wave of shoegaze, in fact. Wave #2 was the APTBS, Airiel, Soundpool, Autolux etc. Slightly less known than the originals, but more concentrated in impact. Now the scene has become a lot more intimate and personal – sort of harking back to how it originally was I guess. Celebrating itself. Like how Andrew said today there’d be a new Sway album just for us. I kind of like it that way. Because if you’re not focused on sales, you’re not focused on appealing to a LOT of people and instead can choose to appeal to a few people who you really, really care about.

You know I just explained all this in my thesis today? Using sociological theories? Talk about relevant, eh?

Speaking of 25 years of music, if we bring the Blondie experience into the mix, it would seem you’re pretty understated… not one to toot your own horn much and instead just do the music for the music. Or you have really rubbish publicity skills. You’re doing a good job on Twitter, and within TSC on Facebook so I’d find that difficult to believe.

I think you make perfect sense about how you make music. Learning the instrument(s) is the biggest hurdle because you really need to master the skill before you can make honest music again. You have to be able to play by heart without thinking of the chords and then the untrained ear emerges again. It’s a bit of a risk too because if you don’t go far enough you might be stuck with a trained ear for life! No, I suppose you do reach a point where you can sort of communicate with music… like a medium.

I think music wants to communicate with us. I always see songs as distinct entities from their instruments. Many songs are like people, they have a personality and a message and it’s up to the listener to work out what the song (not the singer or musicians) is trying to say. I think that’s why I tried out music writing, I wanted to see if I could understand what the songs were saying.

Somehow we’re both oldies and newies. Nancy and I were in our embryonic stages as a musical duo when Shoegaze was coined. Already full on C Twins fans, we listened to MBV Loveless, Curve, Lush and Slowdive as they all came out here in the US in 91-92. It felt then and still feels now to me like more than a genre, but actually a sensibility. I remember a music piece in Newsweek that year by Jon Pareles (I think) that heralded the new role of noise in music from Nirvana to MBV. I’ve continued to hear the duality of aggressive lushness ringing through pop music throughout the past two decades.

So I think that that our relationship to the shoegaze scene has been tangential because while it was surely an influence, HVG always explored whatever we felt like at the time. As we got going in our present form, we discovered the Loveless Music Group via MySpace in 2005 and became friends with other NYC bands like Dead Leaf Echo and Soundpool. We heard and got played alongside a lot of the “2nd Wave” bands on FastForwardReverse, Timmy G’s awesome show on East Village Radio. I think this gave us a feeling that we could go with our inner gazer and explore a little more the drenchy side of our post punk dreaminess. So our last 4 or 5 records since then have had more of that.

I feel we have always made a boutique style of style of personally cross pollinated music. I agree that you know it when you hear it and when something clearly wasn’t created just to reach the most number of people, it connects in a way the the big pop music never can. We always thought we could find an audience for our music this way but we’ve had varying degrees of success in that regard over the years. This has led to some ambivalence about publicizing ourselves in any traditional way. We’d stopped trying to seek out label attention long ago and that may have been a factor in our under the radar persona but we really only care about making music that makes us feel good.

I don’t always trumpet the Debbie Harry connection because, while she’s a great friend to Nancy and me, it just seems a little grandiose to always be mentioning it. We love her and love to talk about how great she is if you get us going on it though.

That’s a very perceptive take on the relationship between songs and artists. It aligns with my take on how the song seems to tell you what it wants. It’s very easy to snap into an automatic approach when you’re trying to bring them to life and kill what’s unique about the song you’re working on. It’s a constant struggle to listen and balance being playful and thoughtful. It’s never finished.

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