An I Origins film review and interview with director Mike Cahill, intertwined with personal anecdotes and musings on past lives, coincidence, and the ability of art to attract like-minded individuals across distances....
As far as I'm concerned, pop music is the most exciting frontier for musical innovation. From the mainstream radio-friendly mash-ups of Beyonce, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber down to your favorite neighborhood indie pop band or danceable electronic act, pop music is encompassing of a wide world of sounds, full of ground-breaking firsts. Yet it's safe to say that in the current indie music climate, with its constant breaking and building of narrow-minded subgenres like dream pop, vaporwave, chillwave, and the like, oversaturation often leads to myriad bands which sound more or less identical. Of these, most lack a truly distinguishing spark that makes them stand out.
Which is why I get really excited upon the discovery of pop bands who don't easily fit in anywhere, and are able to -- if not reinvent it -- at least give the wheel a furious and energetic spin. My latest and greatest finding lies in Royal Canoe, a group of musicians from the uncommon birthing ground of Winnipeg, Canada. While undoubtedly considered "indie pop" by any wide-casting use of the term, Royal Canoe aren't actually easy to define, especially with non-abstract terminologies. With two drummers, two keyboardists, and four vocalists, the six-member band is kind of all over the place stylistically -- yet somehow, it just works.
After talking to Royal Canoe's vocalist and guitarist Matt Peters, I came to realize that what sets Royal Canoe apart from other indie pop bands is not exactly the genre tags they fall under -- of which there are many -- but their fascinating communal character. For a pop band, they are remarkably tenacious. They make a point of having extremely high standards for creation and performance, in service of being the best musicians they can be. Any self-imposed rules they have set for themselves are balanced by a willingness to share artistic duties, as well as an openness to inspiration and experimentation.
"I think everyone definitely has an appreciation for letting their voice be heard but also trying to reach a greater good..." -- Matt Peters
In the latest dubstep-inspired track by Brooklyn's The Mast, vocalist Haale Gafori took full directorial duties and turned scenes from her mind into a stark music video for public consumption. Covered with powder for a heightened ethereal effect, Los Angeles-based dancer Pandora Marie pop and locks her way in and out of Gafori's vocals, as monochrome simplicity eventually projects into full-color silhouettes that pulse in time with glitchy beats.
In the brief Q&A below, Gafori describes the creative process for "UpUpUp" from start to finish, and you can expect to see this video in our upcoming Motion & Movement In Music Video panels for Bumbershoot and MusicfestNW.
As we find ourselves suddenly thrust into the midst of the information/overpopulation age, some unsettling realities about the nature or our species' brilliant endeavors become harder and harder to suppress from our collective psyche. We know that our government starts wars solely to funnel money into the military/prison industrial complex. We know that we've sold out our political voice to those of inanimate corporate deities. Our excess is gleaned from the blackened heart of human exploitation and spiritual vacancy. These things have become increasingly obvious, and yet, your average person is ultimately powerless to change them on a grand scale. The overwhelmingly tragicomic trajectory of our collective plotlines can possess anyone with the urge to detach themselves from what some people still call "reality".
Spring 2010 Interview
But it's not all unsettling. There's a transcendent beauty lurking in the depths of our current art explosion. With increased technological advances, more people than ever can exteriorize their internal realms of consciousness for less. It's this desire to distance oneself in an alternate universe of creative information, combined with disgust at America's obsession with "power of positive thinking" mind rape psychology, that inspired Liars' latest album, Sisterworld. Following a string of brilliant full-lengths, Sisterworld finds the band continuing to challenge themselves. Some artists find their sound and pummel a pattern ad infinitum, but it's always more exhilarating to watch artists take serious risks -– which is something Liars have never shied away from doing. Combine this with a fervent dedication to the visual side of the project (the full-length DVD companion to Drums Not Dead is a lo-fi video art masterpiece), and it's not surprising that art rock megaliths Radiohead hand-picked Liars to open for them on their last tour.
On the verge of their latest release, Aaron Hemphill and Angus Andrew were nice enough to answer a few questions via e-mail. (Editor's note: All formatting from their responses is original!).
ARTICLE CONTINUED BELOW
Liars "Scissor" from A Bruntel on Vimeo.
One of the underlying themes of Sisterworld is how people form their own worlds and social networks to deal with the continuing onslaught of our society brought forth by population expansion and new information technologies. Where'd the idea for this theme come from, and how do you guys personally build your own "sisterworlds," as it were?Angus Andrew: AARON AND I BEGAN TALKING ABOUT HOW WE OFTEN FEEL DISLOCATED FROM WHAT'S GOING ON AROUND US. SOME KIND OF LACK OF CONNECTION WITH THE MILIEU. WE SPOKE ABOUT THIS GENERALLY AS IT RELATES TO MUSIC AND CULTURE, AND THEN REFINED THE IDEA AS WE FOCUSED MORE ON LOS ANGELES. I THINK MUSIC IS OUR SISTERWORLD, BUT WE EACH HAVE LOTS OF WAYS OF CREATING THE SPACE WE NEED. FOR EXAMPLE WE'RE ALL PRETTY AVID GARDENERS.
Aaron Hemphill: IT WASN'T REALLY THE EVENT OF ARRIVING AT THIS IDEA, MORE THAT ANGUS' AND MY SUBJECT MATTER AND MUSICAL MOODS CONVERGED ON THE SUBJECT. THIS WAS THE COMMON SUBJECT... ONE THAT COULD UNITE A BROAD SPECTRUM OF SOUNDS AND STILL BE COHESIVE. THE MORE I LEARN ABOUT MYSELF, THE MORE DETAILED AND SPECIFIC THE WORLD I FEEL I FIT IN BECOMES... THIS ADDS A LOT OF FEAR AND PARANOIA AS TO WHETHER OR NOT A PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION WILL EVER BE FOUND.
I personally use information technology as a means to deluge myself with a constant stream of art, books, movies, music, blogs, graphic novels etc. in an attempt to exist in somewhat of a parallel dimension of my own design. On that note, what other bands would you recommend right now for someone looking for a good escape from the horrors of our times? What kind of other artists, regardless of medium, have you been geeking out on as of late?Andrew: I LIKE TO READ A LOT. FOR ME, A GOOD AUTHOR CAN TAKE YOU ELSEWHERE. LATELY I'VE BEEN REALLY INTERESTED IN FIRST-TIME NOVELISTS. TOM MCCARTHY, STEPHAN HALL, STEVE TOLTZ, JOSHUA FERRIS -- ALL HAVE WRITTEN INTERESTING NOVELS RECENTLY.
Hemphill: NDS: THE LEGENDARY PINK DOTS, SIGHTINGS, ONEIDA, PINK DOLLAZ, WU-TANG CLAN, KING TUBBY, CHOPIN, MORTON FELDMAN. ARTISTS: CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI. SADLY, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN'S DEATH HAS PROMPTED ME TO REACQUAINT MYSELF WITH HIS WORK.
Since your sound seems to vary so much from album to album but still retains a similar vibe, I was wondering how your songwriting process typically works. Does one person usually bring in most of the ideas or is it more collaborative? How does a typical Liars song come forth into the world? Do you conceptualize it beforehand or is it more of a spontaneous process?Andrew: WHEN WRITING FOR AN ALBUM, WE GENERALLY DISCUSS CERTAIN IDEAS OR MOODS WE'RE INTERESTED IN. THEN WE GO AWAY AND WORK INDIVIDUALLY ON CREATING SONGS THAT EXPRESS OUR OPINION OF THAT MOOD OR IDEA. ONCE A GOOD AMOUNT IS COLLECTED, OR ENOUGH TO MAKE US FEEL CONFIDENT THAT WE'RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, WE'LL LISTEN AND TALK A BIT MORE ABOUT THE MATERIAL. IN THE FINAL STAGES, WE DECONSTRUCT THE SONGS AND RECONFIGURE THEM IN THE STUDIO.
Hemphill: TYPICALLY, ANGUS AND I PRODUCE FAIRLY COMPLETE DEMOS AND SHARE THEM WITH EACH OTHER. FOR THIS ALBUM, WE ALLOWED MORE TIME FOR EXPANSION AND REVISION DURING THE "SHARING" PHASE OF THE PROCESS.
The last time I talked with you was right before you went on tour with Radiohead. How was that experience as a whole? Are those guys really telepathic androids from the 5th dimension phase shifting through our time space in order to blow our minds, or are they fairly down-to-earth guys? If you had to pick one nugget of wisdom you took away from the whole experience, what would it be?Andrew: YEAH, THAT WAS A REALLY GREAT EXPERIENCE. AND THEY ARE EXTREMELY DOWN-TO-EARTH GUYS. I THINK ONE OF THE BEST THINGS TO WITNESS WAS HOW EACH OF THE MEMBERS IN THAT BAND CONTRIBUTED SO MUCH TO THE SOUND THEY CREATED ON STAGE. IT REALLY SEEMS LIKE EACH PERSON IS ABSOLUTELY INTEGRAL TO HOW THE BAND FUNCTIONS. THERE WEREN'T ANY TRICKS, EITHER; IT WAS ALL REAL.
Hemphill: GREAT. NO. THERE'S NEVER AN ACCEPTABLE AMOUNT OF PRESSURE.
You'd also mentioned before that you intentionally induce insomniac states as a means to bring about creative inspiration. Any such practices involved with the making of Sisterworld?Andrew: YEAH, REALLY, WHENEVER I HAVE THE CHANCE TO GET FOCUSED, I LOSE THE NEED FOR TIME. MY BODY CLOCK GOES OUT THE WINDOW, AND I LET THE WORK DICTATE REST. OFTEN I FIND MY IDEAS GET LOOSER AND MORE UNINHIBITED IN THE HOURS BEFORE COLLAPSE.
Hemphill: I HAD 2 SEPARATE INCIDENTS OF NERVE DAMAGE TO MY SKULL DURING THE WRITING AND RECORDING OF THIS ALBUM. WHAT THAT HAS CONTRIBUTED IS LEFT ANSWERED BY THE LISTENER, I SUPPOSE.
As someone who thinks in a more shamanic or magickal context, I think dreams are often direct communications with what some would refer to as a "holy guardian angel." With that in mind, what's the weirdest dream you've had in the last year or so, and what do you think it was trying to tell you if anything?Andrew: THE FIRST TRACK ON THE ALBUM WAS A DREAM. I DESCRIBE IT PRETTY LITERALLY IN THE SONG, BUT BASICALLY IT FELT LIKE SOMEONE CLOSE TO ME WAS DYING, AND I WAS INCAPABLE OF DOING ANYTHING TO HELP HIM OR HER. I WOKE WITH A HORRIBLE SENSE OF GUILT AND SOMEHOW FELT LIKE I WAS BEING REMINDED THAT I NEED TO BECOME MORE ENGAGED WITH MY SURROUNDINGS AND THE PEOPLE IN IT...
Hemphill: DREAMS FOR ME REMIND ME THERE'S A LARGE PORTION OF MY MIND I CANNOT CONTROL OR SUMMON. SCHIZOPHRENICS OFTEN RELATE THE LACK OF CONTROL IN A DREAM STATE WITH THE LACK OF CONTROL CONCERNING THEIR AUDITORY OR VISUAL HALLUCINATIONS. THAT BEING SAID, THE MOST HORRIFYING DREAMS I HAVE ARE FRIGHTENING DUE TO A LOOK OR DESIGN THAT IS COMPLETELY FOREIGN TO MY FAMILIAR TENDENCIES OR PRACTICES, YET OBVIOUSLY PRODUCED BY MY MIND. FOR EXAMPLE, I HAD A DREAM THAT TOOK PLACE IN A FUTURISTIC ENVIRONMENT WITH VISUAL ELEMENTS I WOULD NEVER CHOOSE, NOR IMAGES I WOULD INTENTIONALLY RECORD FOR MEMORY. THE FRIGHTENING THING IS THAT THERE IS A PORTION OF MY MIND THAT IS VERY ACTIVE, AND UNCONTROLLABLE.