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Heron Oblivion interview

May 24, 2016

Heron Oblivion interview

Those of
you who’ve been following underground music for the past ten years might know
bands like Comets On Fire, Six Organs of Admittance, Sic Alps and Espers. Now, if you are familiar with those bands you can imagine
how a fusion between them would sound like and you’ll get near of what Heron Oblivion represents.
I’ve been
following music for as long as I can remember and I have to admit that Heron Oblivion are among the top
discoveries lately. Recently they signed for ‘Sub Pop Records’ and they
released their debut album. Like mentioned above, band consists of
singer/drummer Meg Baird (Espers, Watery Love, The Baird Sisters. She also has a solo carrier), guitarist Charlie
Saufley (Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound),
Ethan Miller on bass (Comets On Fire,
Howlin’ Rain, Feral Ohms) and guitarist Noel Von Harmonson (who was also in Comets On Fire, besides being in Sic Alps and Six Organs Of Admittance).
Lineup
itself is very promising and just wait until you hear their debut. Imagine a
band marrying US Psychedelic Rock with British Acid Folk. Their sound is
unsaturated and overall the production is really good. It seems to me they are
drawing ideas from each band they were part of in the past and result being Heron Oblivion today.
How was Heron Oblivion project born?
Meg: The collaboration started when Ethan and Noel
invited both Charlie and I to join them for a band called Wicked Mace – their
project that incorporated a rotating cycle of different musicians. Those first
sessions got us started playing together.
Charlie: Some due has to go to Watery Love – the Philly
cave-punk band that got Meg behind the drums. I think hearing and seeing Watery
Love
, who could be ferocious, opened all of our eyes about what Meg could do
beyond singing and playing guitar. The deliciousness of those possibilities was
there from the start. But we were thinking primarily about very open-ended jams
that were pretty barbaric in nature. Meg’s vocals and the songs were not
some part of a bigger plan. That potential made itself apparent over time and
through playing together.
As mentioned earlier you were part of many
different bands that produced a lot of releases. How do you think Heron Oblivion
reflects your past involvements in music?
Meg: The band draws on a life-long, genuine
attraction to music for all of us. We draw on everything from our music
history. Not just the music we’ve heard and loved and decoded along the way,
but the unique, personal experience of playing music together – the things that
you can only learn directly and from other musicians and from being around live
music for so long.
Charlie: Everything goes into the H.O. pot. I
don’t think the influence of past bands exists apart from the fact that those
bands were reflective of our personalities and the personal musical influences. Those same forces are at work here. I think anyone that waded through our
rehearsal space jam tapes would be surprised at how much is on the table
stylistically speaking – and that comes more from following the spark at the
moment than the past.
Album is a very “live” sounding.
Would you like to get in details regarding how it was recorded?
Noel V. Harmonson: We recorded all of the instruments
together live in a tiny basement room and Meg did the vocals afterward. A
few of the songs were just barely finished by the time we hit the studio so we
needed to be able to see each for a few visual cues and signals to make sure we
got things right. More importantly, the songs on the record are really
group pieces and needed that cohesive unit feel for them to get the energy
right. We did a handful of takes of each song with slightly
different approaches and then went back and chose the best performances.
What can you tell us about the material on the
album? Do you collaborate on a song writing or is it made more on an individual
level?
Meg: The approach is really collaborative. Most
songs start from a chord structure someone brings in, or that we just hit upon
while working together. Everyone adds ideas to help arrange, and melodies are
composed either on the fly in the rehearsal space, or in a few cases, at home
over rehearsal tapes. Ethan’s incredible energy and drive for documentation and
quick ear for arranging has been especially critical to our process of getting
this group of songs together.
Charlie: I think much of the original Wicked Mace – style
concept of open architecture persists. Everyone gets a real kick out of
whittling away collectively at a simple set of chords someone has brought in.
You supported Kurt Vile on his tour. How did
that came about?
Meg: I’ve known Kurt and Jesse for a long time from
Philadelphia, but I’m not entirely sure where the idea came from. It could have
also been our mutual friend Rennie Jaffe who works with Kurt and is always so
filled with great ideas and support. It was very natural. I’d never really
thought about it that specifically.
Charlie: That tour was so fun and symbolic in a way.
Meg brought Kurt and Jesse out to the west coast several years ago – Kurt’s first
acoustic, West Coast tour. Meg and Kurt both played at an eviction party that
Comets and Assemble Head were having because we’d been kicked out of our shared
practice space. It was fun thinking about that tour as an extension of that
moment. There’s just a lot of simpatico there too. Kurt and his crew are cut
from the same curious, still-searching, kind of musical cloth as were are.
Is it too soon to ask if you have any new
material?
Meg: Not too soon! It kind of feels like we should
already have a new album ready! But we are working on getting new songs to take
shape, and it’s really nice to let some time and space pass before latching on
to exactly what’s going to happen next.
Noel: Yeah, we have a lot of new stuff kicking
around. Lots really interesting ideas. Some stuff in the same vein
and some stuff pushing a little further out in all of the directions we’ve
flirted with so far. Our creative process is flowing better than
ever, it’s very exciting.  
Charlie: Yeah, I like the new stuff coming together in
the jam space. I can see a lot of horizon and potential directions from where
we’re standing collectively.
Lately we’re pretty much obsessed with
categorizing music into a frame of genre. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s
terms like ‘acid folk’ or ‘psychedelic folk’ weren’t even born and were not
used when describing bands. It was only ‘rock’ or at least ‘folk rock’, but
these days we are way too occupied with genres, sub-genre and so on. We are
experiencing such a vast wave of ‘psychedelic’ bands that you begin questioning
what ‘psychedelic’ really means. How would you describe your music with a few
words and what is your opinion about categorizing music just for the sake of
promotion etc?
Meg: I do feel like those hyper specific categories
are really marketing terms, and they don’t really reflect the long conversation
in recorded music history. Could it be an “everything music?” Everything bagels
are really popular when you can’t make up your mind, so maybe something like
that could work?
I feel like
some of the attempt to categorize music in this way – especially the term “psychedelic” – relates most closely to the super ancient idea of an
Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy. I can’t speak to it on any kind of a real
academic or philosophical level, but I often feel like this is really what
people are talking about when distinguishing music as being “psychedelic” or
not. The Dionysian stuff would be the chaotic “psychedelic” type of music that
lends itself to interior and expansive spaces. The Apollonian would fit into
the order of accepted institutions much better – it would be at home in the
white columns and white box. It feels like asking the question “Is this a
chaotic, from-who-knows – where outsider rock and roll party, or a known-quantity
kind of art party?” I always hope it’s both and I’m pretty sure that these two
ideas are supposed to be intrinsically inter-related at their root, and that’s
a big relief.
Charlie: Yeah, I don’t mind the psychedelic label.
Increasingly, it tends to be a very inclusive term and more suggestive of a
mood or feel, really. I think we’ve moved beyond the term evoking velvet flares
and backwards solos exclusively. That’s good. I wish more of life, in general, was more psychedelic and mysterious. The Internet age can be very bland and
monochrome.
Who is behind the cover artwork?
Charlie: Ethan shot the front cover. I can’t remember if
it’s Mexico or Panama. The back cover is a Polaroid of an abandoned shack on
the coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz I took many years ago. It
probably doesn’t exist anymore. We were gravitating toward very Tarkovsky-like
images when we picked those. Lots of thought about the subconscious and weight
of memory. Things like that.
What are you currently up to?
Noel: Just hanging around. Went out to
something like a sample sale at a great local ceramics shop a few towns over
and day tripped in the rain. Gave the dog a bath and then we ate dinner
and watched Polanski’s “Carnage” from a few years ago (it was great!) and
sipping on this sparkling drink that I make with apple cider vinegar, ginger,
and maple syrup. A pretty wild Saturday night.
Meg: Hey, Noel-that sounds great! Yes, we
have been at home of late, and alternately enjoying (or dreading) the
day-to-day, working on other projects, rehearsing for an upcoming tour, and
thinking about new stuff ahead. I’m trying to buy a really big book shelf, and
get over a newly found driving anxiety I’ve gotten since moving out to the Bay
Area.
Charlie: Trying to be in the natural, real world as much
as possible.
Is Heron Oblivion your only musical
occupation or are you also involved with any other projects?
Noel: I’m currently working on another album with
Dylan Shearer. I’m playing drums again for him with Petey (from Thee Oh Sees). The record will be released by ‘Castleface’ whenever we actually finish it.
 
Meg: I’m still working on my solo work and I’m
always playing music with Charlie at home too. I’m really excited that it looks
like a Baird Sisters release may be happening later this year too.
Charlie: Meg and I are always stockpiling stuff for a
record we keep meaning to make – a kinda spooky homebrew record. I also work
with Mike Lardas, the drummer from Assemble Head in a project that’s based on
little more on beats and sonic collage. I’ll try to finish my own spooky
homebrew record too before too long, though this year will probably be too busy
for that to happen.
What’s the story behind band’s name?
Noel: It’s a friend we know.  
Meg: Naming a band is a pretty humiliating process.
In the past few years we’ve seen a vinyl
revival and lately there is an interest in releasing music on tapes, which was
a few years back pretty much a dead alley. What’s you opinion about old music
formats coming back to live? Are you yourself a vinyl collector?
Noel: I think we’re all vinyl collectors to a
certain degree but none of us are obsessive about the format. I’ll take
whatever I can get whether it’s an LP, a coverless CDR, or some audio files. I’m anxious to dig into tunes and the format isn’t really a dealbreaker
for me. I would prefer to own everything I love on vinyl if I only had
the space for it!
Meg: I’m not remotely an audiophile or into anything
like that when it comes to music formats. I do know that stuff can be very real
and can be heard, and it’s really fun to go to someone’s house that’s
all set up with a system, but it’s certainly not the main part of listening or
liking music for me. Sound can be streaming online or an mp3 and it’s not going
to prevent me from hearing and enjoying the music. There is a point where the
sound quality can get so poor and annoying and frustrating (mostly because if
what you aren’t hearing) but I have a wide threshold.
I also love
vinyl records like I love printed books, and how they feel closer to a longer
history of manufacturing, engineering, and disseminating information. I also
prefer how flaws sound in an analog format. I like the way those adjustments
happen far more seamlessly in your mind than they do in digital formats – where
the info is either there or it’s gone – with no wobble.
I also
really like just the process of listening to records or tapes or cd’s – it feels
like a closed system that sounds good, garners all your focus and isn’t tied
into a bossy, organized online digital system. That stuff is fine, just not my
first choice or preference at all. My father was an electrical tech at RCA
communications, so I come by all this very naturally. His work was focused on
communication satellites, but there was no lack of “his master’s voice” imagery
around the house. I talked to him about sound and technology a lot. My father
still likes CDs best as the noise from vinyl records bothered him, and he
really appreciated the engineering that went into the CD format.
Cassettes
are cheap and fun and immediate to produce – I think it’s nice that they are
having a little comeback, I don’t find it precious or anything like that. They
can probably even be recycled these days?
Charlie: Maybe a wider audience is seeing through the
illusion of digital music – choosing convenience while ignoring the fact that
it’s the crappiest, most ephemeral form of all. That would be encouraging.
Digital music so often sounds so bad.  I do think there is a little
cultural fetishization at work when it comes to the vinyl renaissance – there’s a
lot of marketing based on “authentic” experiences, largely directed at digital
age kids. But if it sends them in a positive direction, that’s a good outcome. I’ll enjoy music any way I can though.
Before we say goodbye I would love if you can
share some music you recently discovered.
Noel: Just
by taking a look at what’s near the turntable: Maki Asakawa LP
collection, The Beat of the Earth LP, a few LP’s by Bill Orcutt, Phil Yost Touchwood’s Dream, an LP by Jacqueline Taieb that’s probably a collection of
her best YeYe stuff and a copy of the Frank Wright Quartet’s “Church Number
Nine” that my friend Tim Daly gave me that absolutely scorches.
Charlie: Loving Matt Valentine‘s new
Blazing Grace
LP. Ben Chasny turned us on to this Les Filles de
Illeghadad
LP that’s astounding. Second Noel on the Bill Orcutt stuff. A
few recent performances we saw were pretty hot and illuminated. And The Beat of
the Earth
and Electronic Hole records have been in regular rotation too.
Interview by Klemen Breznikar/2016
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2016
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