Sound Animal | Interview | New Album, ‘NewSoundLand’
Sound Animal band’s album ‘NewSoundLand’ is forthcoming from the international Kryrart Ambient label.
Guitar, bodhrán, dulcimers and lap steel slide played with bows, silver flute, voice, electric tennis racket. Singles out in Neo-psych, Avant-Garde, Indie… The habitat is Berkeley, California.
“The future is uncertain”
What is it about drone music that keeps you searching for your next composition?
Good question. It’s the way it instantly makes my body feel to even think for a second that drone exists. I go all excited. Shivery. Breathe harder. Everything gets brighter around me.
I listen to drone metal bands like Dylan Carlson of Earth, who began the genre and was followed up by great folks like Sunn O))), Nadja, Om, Swans, Barn Owl, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Wooden Shjips. I think of the arts like a conversation with a cat as you walk along the sidewalk. Cat meows. It would be impolite not to meow back. Meeoowwwwwwww.
I was walking along today listening, as regularly do, to ‘Site Specific Carniverous Occurance’ from Earth’s ‘Thrones and Dominions’ album and was worried something might happen that would mean that someone might talk to me. I couldn’t handle taking off my headset and interrupting Dylan Carlson simply repeating the same note in the same lonnnng rhythm as he had been doing for some minutes. No, sorry, I have to hear him play that same note again, can’t stop for the Apocalypse or whatever; it’s gotta wait, bitches.
Who in the experimental world do you look to for inspiration?
Synchronized cat howling is amazing. I stopped listening to music for a good while in the past because my housemate’s cat Lester was such a great sex-singer. He wasn’t fixed, and I’d hear him outside my window. No music lived up to that.
But in terms of life and death in the natural world, I’m actually on the opposing team: wild birds. I whistle to the house finches outside my window because I’m always thrilled by their songs. Did you know that each neighborhood has its own experimental house finch genre? They don’t just know how to sing from instinct. They also are taught by their families. They even sing to them in the eggs. I try to only make music coming from my room that they’ll like OK. In my novel to come out next, the characters are inspired by house finches for their music.
Avant-garde metal is what I’m working in most at this moment. That genre includes subsets like drone and also post-metal, like Pelican, Russian Circles, Swans. Avant gets weird with unusual sounds and made-up instruments, dissonance, unconventional guitar sounds, odd rhythms, strange vocal tones, unexpected acoustic folk instruments, chugging, sometimes elements garnered from the electronic reality found within a DAW, and more female vocalists than you’d find normally. Broken conventions lying around everywhere on the ground. Giant Squid is an example of some that came out of the Bay Area, one of the central hubs for it, which is where I live. The tree roots around here spread it. What can I do?
I like Psychedelic Stoner Doom and all of that whole nexus unraveled in all directions. Though they’re in established genres, the artists are inventive and original, exploring in new directions constantly, like Pilot Voyager, Lowrider, Zone Six, Steinsopp, The Marlboro Men, Trip Hazard. Ty Segal is really out there experimentally, is barely human.
Tell us about what you are working on right now musically?
I’m working in a few genres. I’m polishing an avant-garde metal album, a scary dark one about death and transhumanist destruction of the earth. It’s my response to disturbing reality. I believe that if the obsessively washed masses give that second album a listen when it comes out, they’ll dig it.
The first album, ‘NewSoundLand’, coming out from Kryrart Ambient soon, is tone-poems about specific locations where something dramatic is happening. For example, in addition to guitar, in ‘Belltower in a Storm’, I shake a container of tennis balls and a sheet of plastic. That’s the wind pummeling the canvas in the tower where the sweet bell steadfastly rings on. I’m still doing some similar stuff, continuing with experimental dark ambient, but mostly going bigger.
Can you give us a little background on how you got into making music?
Casually making music was a big part of my personal life until I decided I had too many artistic pursuits going on, and I made a list. Crossed off music.
Concentrating on the visual arts and writing allowed me to get further with them than if music was competing for my time. A few years ago, I wanted one of my novels, ‘Floating on Secrets’, to be driven by profound desire. Listening to neo-psych bands while I wrote got me into that mood.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s music, especially Anton’s voice, is full of aching longing for love. The Black Angels’ and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s driving intensity provokes the overpowering sense of the novel’s male lead’s charisma that drew the protagonist to him. Sons of Otis and 1000 Mods were appropriate for listening to when my couple consummated their lust.
The characters transformed to become musicians. Nothing to do with psychedelic substances — they use float tanks enhanced by neo-psych playlists to induce visions. There are over a hundred songs mentioned in that Psychological Romantic Suspense book. It won silver medal for the Romance category for novels entered into the contest from major and small press, so it introduced lots of readers to those bands.
I decided I wanted to put out a little music supposedly by the characters in the book, which is a band called Floating on Secrets, and sing the male as well as the female parts. Maybe I can sound like Andrew Eldritch in Sisters of Mercy.
Meanwhile, I got enamored by the affairs between certain notes that sometimes just wouldn’t let me go. Like in the motif of ‘Eclipse’, by Arenna, especially. Or ‘Helios Hyperion’, by Comacozer. Or Sunface’s ‘The Observatory’. How could I listen to those notes obsessed with one another and remain outside of their love? Painful. I had to get inside the relationship. To feel the physics of the vibrations from the inside out, the energy between the notes flowing through me.
And the dirtiest sounds of a bass breaking up, that’s life itself.
What was the last physical album you bought?
Aboriginal music from New Guinea.
“I want the music to be set free into the world while ears are still around doing their thing”
Tell us about your music making process?
Thank you for all these thoughtful questions, Ross. Well, I listen to your phenomenal podcast for inspiration.
I get it done. I don’t have time to mess around with playing much unless it’s going into a piece meant to give the public. Most of my work isn’t released yet and people don’t know it exists. So, the more I make, the more uncomfortable pressure it creates. The future is uncertain. I want the music to be set free into the world while ears are still around doing their thing.
I lay down lots of tracks for a song. I hit a bodhrán, make my guitar into a bass using an octave pedal or the bass setting on the modelling amp, play the silver flute, play a dulcimer, sing like a cat, whatever it takes. Then I go all My Bloody Valentine on it in the DAW.
To get some of the dissonance especially, I sometimes play a one-off fretless lap steel slide guitar handmade by Monkeymatic or the dulcimers with an Ebow, guitar bow or violin bow. I tried bowing the electric tennis racket. I don’t recommend it: you’ll be disappointed if you do and then go blaming me, but I’ll only laugh haha. I like to combine the bowed tracks with the tennis racket, using shim and distortion pedals, and maybe slow them down, mess with them in Logic Pro.
Creates a nice drone to put underneath a guitar track that my jam buddy Steve Gilmartin sends me, which I enhance and celebrate without getting invasive. He’s influenced by John Fahey, who played alone, not music meant for collaboration; doing so requires oblique thinking. Steve is into heavy-hitting Doom like me — Acid King and such, and I play aggressively like that when we jam. But on his own, he often plays these nuanced, delicate tone stories that wonderfully fall apart in the middle and hesitantly put themselves back together, vulnerable, and beautiful. Like the new ‘Bad Hair Day on Saturn’. One of those is on ‘NewSoundLand’: ‘Principles of Scientific Mismanagement’.
“I was raised by trees”
Was the guitar the first instrument you learnt?
No, I’ve played a humongous variety of instruments, hundreds of the darn things over my life; that started from an early age. Among the ones I adapted earliest were obscure drone traditional wood and bamboo flutes from other countries – each being multiple flutes compacted into one. And I put myself through private school on a silver flute scholarship. I had a relative who knew how much I liked playing my zither. With excellent craftsmanship in spite of gouty hands, he made stringed instruments for me as gifts when I was young, like a mountain dulcimer, balalaika, and classical guitar. I played classical and got into the atonal composers like Schoenberg, slid around his notes of Pierrot Lunaire when singing at home. The cats must have thought I’d gone crazy. I also was trained as a singer and did well in state competitions, did lots of German lieder.
I was fortunate. I was raised by trees. Ever climb in a storm and sing into the wind? Great overtones. Or, I’d nestle in between trees branching out of one trunk. They were similar to the wooden shepherd double flute that branches out from the part you blow. I’d play the shepherd flute while wedged in the double trees. I’d feel the love between the trees flowing through me and channel it into songs.
I used to sit in a hollow inside a bunch of evergreen trees in Indiana and play dulcimer. I wrote a song there that I played in high school while singing, and I provided the choir and piano all their parts for it. It’s fitting to bond with trees while playing instruments made from their dead brothers.
What’s your guitar of choice?
In terms of electric, I’ve only had a Gibson The Paul II, 1996.
What sort of pedal setup do you use?
I want to do a wry music video where, while the listener hears the long song, you see me getting ready to play by disentangling the wad of cables. When the song is ending, I’m finally ready to get started playing.
I sort of fetishize pedals. When I passed by a giant wall of shelves of them the other day, I had to hold myself back from licking the glass.
The first one I got was Ground FX Keto Double Chorus, Vibrato, & Reverb Pedal handmade in Germany, and I went from there. I use them with my little Orange and even in addition to my Peavy modeling amp. One of my favorites is like Christmas – the JHS Muffuletta Fuzz Guitar Effects Pedal, which models six amps.
I most often combine a Grand Canyon pedal set to shim with a Bullet Metal distortion pedal. I also hook them up using an external pickup, a transducer, to anything. A swinging creaky door, a tennis racket played with a rock, a water bottle played by moving a silver flute along the bottle.
How and where do you record your music?
In my crowded little bedroom in Berkeley when people are gone. Or at least they’re gone by the time I’m done.
Tell our readers about the different instruments you use and where do you find them all?
I keep a lookout for special ones. I found the one-off Lap Steel Slide from Monkeematic, who otherwise repairs amps, and I like that it was a personal project that excited him with innovation.
What I use most often is my Gibson’s The Paul II 1996, from Craiglist. But I play dulcimers too, which were gifts, sometimes traditionally, and other times on them and the lap steel I use a guitar or violin bow. An Ebow is good for all of them.
Seeking out special instruments was a big part of my life, and I traded for a lot of them out in the woods. I’m sort of a minimalist, ended up with none. But after having so many, now I know which ones would work for what I’m recording. I’m concentrating on drones right now, with a few coming from the people who handmake them when possible. These re mostly shipped from other countries with Ebay. A Khaen mouth organ from Laos, which is a gourd with bamboo, a Balkan Shepherd’s Flute, a thick Jaw Harp from Thick Triple Tongue Dan Moi Jawharp, which is advanced but produces and unusual number of overtones.
I like to employ found objects like a paper towel holder on ‘We Are Earth’. I would have probably used a Didgebox if it had arrived yet, but experimenting led to a result in this case with more creative possibilities. It sounded really fun playing into my mouth, different from how it ended up on the song because of the effects I put on it in the DAW. I’ll play the roll straight up, but I want to practice first. It’s an incredibly expressive instrument for someone like me who likes to make sounds remembering my animalness. I used it with the roll intact, since someone gave it to me, and I don’t use them. I squeezed it so it was thin, like a reed. No doubt thousands of people have it, but I don’t know how many had the gall to put it out with a distributor. I mean, that’s for humans.
I was inspired from a young age by how Merce Cunningham instructed his troupe to dance out of time to John Cage’s music. Because separating music out from default expectations makes the tunes deliciously uneasy and unexpected, I like to do that with the Dark Ambient phase I’m in now. I enjoy the playground of genres, and I’ve got my shovels in this sandbox currently partly because of the Kryrart Ambient label.
Being a little off-kilter in a variety of ways musically creates the ominous sensation that’s fitting for our world situation. I sometimes play the strings beyond the nut, creating the suspicion that reality’s lurching somewhere outside the peripheral vision. I briefly sing atonally at times for that odd feeling. I play the Irish bodhrán out of synch sometimes. It all can add overtones and unexpected rhythms.
In ‘The Bell Tower in the Storm’, the wind blows canvas around the top of the tower, and rings the bell, and that’s realistically not in an ordinarily synchronized beat — or a verse and chorus format. It tells a story without words. For that, I shook a piece of plastic and a container full of tennis balls and added that to a guitar track. I like to work pristine so far, giving myself limits, not “cheating” like not using a looper or synth or using someone’s pre-recorded wind sounds. I’ll go over to the dark side soon enough.
If you could collaborate with any other musician who would it be?
When I’d go see bands, I’d be the first one on the dance floor, maybe the only one dancing for the first couple bands. The musicians sometimes told me I affected their playing. In an esoteric sense, I collaborate with the moment every time I dance at home. I try to stomp around on a squeaky floor to ‘Flying Golem’, by Wand most days as a general practice.
But, to answer your question the way you meant it: I’ll say Michael Gira, from Swans would be a blast and a half.
Can you give us a list of your top 5 artists?
Since I talked about my faves already all through the interview, that means I get five extra ones to list, right? Winning!
OK. I guess I think in terms of bands rather than artists. Wet Cactus, the Husky band that put out Circle the Wagons, Pearly Goats, Yuri Gagarin, Howling Giant.
All the ones I didn’t list will haunt me in the night as I lie there alone in the dark, and it’s your fault.
What’s your most memorable live gig?
Playing percussion in a band in Iowa City consisting of a drummer, kalimba, pan pipe and flute players, because I still remember individual happy faces of strangers out there going wild on the dance floor.
But that’s boring. So — this wasn’t a gig, but I loved to participate in drum circles, and I came across a little one in progress on a campus in Tennessee. I leaped up repetitively to kick a big metal sheet on the wall, with one foot then the other.
I figured out how to do that because I made lots of tunes with some musicians in Alabama, literally playing the house. (We all love John Cage.) On some of the tunes, I banged hedonistically on the loose tin side free-standing shower stall, which is still my favorite drum of all time.
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