Musical Rooms

May 30, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 29: Hulk

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 7:48 am


“I’ve always liked small cosy spaces. When I was a kid every nook and cranny in the house was some kind of imagined cockpit or secret hideout of one sort or another. My mind would travel great distances without having a lot of stuff around me. It’s not that different now when it comes to my music room, or my music for that matter. I have the smallest room in the house and a fairly basic set up for recording – a Mac, some speakers and a few half decent mics. There are lots of shelves set behind me which are filled with an assortment of eclectic instruments from all over the world. There are also lots of toy instruments which are just as relevant to me as the proper ones. I’m not about mastering these things and working in a tradition – there are plenty of people who have been doing that brilliantly for eons, I prefer to simply muck about naively. I’ll try to extract as many possibilities from something as I can and then hopefully produce something which is new sounding to me and which lets my mind travel in that same way it did when I was a boy.

I have a big thing for zithers, they are just the most magical and wondrous objects to me. I have a few unusual types which I picked up on my travels. There’s a marxophone which I bought in Greenwich Village, New York; a kind of miniature honky tonk piano in zither form, it’s very versatile, you can play it like a piano with it’s attached keyboard but you can also produce sweet trills and dulcimer sounds from it. I also have a nice old ukelin, which is a cross between a ukulele and a violin, they were originally invented for the purpose of teaching people to play tunes easily and quickly. It’s not a musician’s instrument but it’s an extremely musical object, kind of magical, perfect for me.

I tend to stay away from guitars in general but I have a regular ukulele and a charango. The original charangos were made with armadillo carapaces! Mine’s just plain old wood. The latest thing I’ve acquired is an American vintage toy piano, it’s for my recently born son. Two octaves of loveliness await his little fingers, although I may have to borrow it for a little while first. I also have a collection of music boxes, a khene from Laos and a hurdy gurdy which currently sits mocking me, it’s a beast yet to be tamed.

Even if I’ve recorded a lot of musicians on a project, it’s really just me and the computer in the end. I’ll spend countless hours sifting through the material looking for shapes and forms. It’s similar to a sculptor’s process. Sometimes I have to persevere for a long time before something emerges, but when it does come, it usually takes on a life of its own, I just need to be careful not to overwork it – things can slip through your fingers that way. Themes and backdrops tend to form in my mind at the beginning of a project, I think it’s because my music veers towards the abstract, I need some kind of hook to draw me in and push me on to finish it but also, on a very primary level, there seems to be something visual about my music, which I’m happy about. Again it’s something from my childhood – an obsession with films from a young age I think – and it’s something my dad gave me as I wasn’t much of a street kid; a full time dreamer to the end.”

Hulk is an alias for music producer and collaborator Thomas Haugh. His debut album Silver Thread of Ghosts was released in 2005, and since then he has worked with a number of other artists including Efterklang and Adrian Crowley. His follow up album, Rise of a Mystery Tide was released on Dublin-based OSAKA records this week. It involves an ensemble of musicians playing strings, woodwind and brass and “was conceived as a kind of soundtrack to dreams – oneiric and expansive in nature, it’s a late night/early morning slowburner”. For more information, visit

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May 24, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 28: Jens Lekman

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 10:24 am

jensroomPhoto credit: Thobias Fäldt *

“I used to record and compose in my old apartment in Kortedala, which is a suburb outside Göteborg in Sweden. I named the place Kortedala Beauty Center after a hair salon I used to go to where Shirin, who I also sing about, used to work. When they closed down the hair salon I was convinced that my apartment was the only place in Kortedala that produced any kind of beauty.

The place is underneath the ground with no windows and was described to me as the officially worst apartment in the city. The landlord told me when I moved in that the guy who lived there before me died in the bathtub and was lying dead for three months before they traced the leaking water and found him. When I asked why he told me this, he said he thought I would be happy since they had to renovate the bathroom and kitchen due to water damage. Kortedala is a lonely place. After they closed down most of the mental institutions in Sweden in the early 90’s, a lot of the patients were placed in these dark rooms.

The only equipment I had in there was a computer, a piano and a record collection. I got rid of all other stuff about three years ago. I auctioned out my guitars on my website so I could go to San Francisco. I have always worked alone. I would invite friends over occasionally to play instruments I don’t really know, like strings and horns. But isolation is what I’ve built my whole composing routine on. The dreaming part of it, that’s the most important thing, that’s where the feeling comes in. Dialogue only creates awareness of patterns.

I had a very strict process when it came to writing and recording. I would get up early in the morning, from the night before I had carefully folded three white towels and hung them over a chair. I had a cup of tea and ate breakfast. Then I would step out for a second and throw bread crumbles to the Magpies. Occasionally I would throw little white rocks at them or pieces of eggshell. After this I would head back in, frostbitten and sniffling. Then I had supper and afterwards I would do 100 push-ups, wipe my sweaty forehead with one of the towels and then go to bed.

The thing I like best about Kortedala Beauty Center, despite it’s name and all the beauty that came out of it, is that I don’t live there anymore.”

* Photo details: Jens Lekman in Kortedala Beauty Center, a few days before moving out. The picture was taken for Kalendervägen 113.D a companion bonus CD released simultaneously as Night Falls Over Kortedala on Secretly Canadian, featuring a farewell concert played for the apartment.

Swedish musician Jens Lekman is best known for crafting romantic indie pop with a lyrical edge. He plays Whelan’s in Dublin (with a full band) tomorrow, Sunday May 25th. For more information, visit Jens Lekman.

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May 20, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 27: Jeff Martin

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 1:21 pm
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“My favourite place to create music is home at home – I live alone so anywhere in the house is fine. I have guitars placed around the house, at the end of my bed, in the sitting room and my little home studio – it’s nice to pick up the guitar at any point and play away. I’ve just moved in here so it’s a brand new space. I wanted to have just plain white walls and no pictures. It’s a very basic plain white room so it’s exactly what I’ve wanted for a very long time.

Guitar is definitely my main instrument, everything starts with that. Vocals, lyrics and arrangements come later. I have a basic home recording set-up a Mac laptop some mics and some software that I use for demos and home recording. Any recordings for releases are done at the Experimental Audio studio.

The most important thing in this room is time. It takes time for me to get into a creative zone and the more time I spend in there, the more I come up with. It can be fragmented by the day-to-day requirements of life and external commitments, but time followed by silence are the most important things.

Isolation is vital for me. Creating music is a hugely personal thing, particularly vocal melodies and coming up with, and trying out, lyrical ideas. I have no internet connection or telephone in my studio room, the mobile phone is always left outside too. There’s nothing worse than being interrupted by a call.

I like to keep things simple and I don’t need too much as I only demo here. I love the guitar, so I have a few nice ones: a G&L Telecaster, Fender Telecaster, Gibson SG, Fender Jaguar, two Acoustics (Guild & Takamine) and a Fender Jazz bass. I have a vintage 100W Marshall head with a 4×12 cab along with a smaller practice amp. For recording I have an Apple Mac laptop with Alesis monitors running Ableton, Reason and Pro-Tools. I also have a few basic mics, synths, glockenspiel and some other odds and ends.

I love seeing all my gear permanently set up ready and waiting to be used, I can go in any time I feel like it, I don’t have to work around other people’s schedules. It’s a place to escape from everyday pressures.”

Jeff Martin releases Spoons – A Collection of Remixes, Collaborations & Interpretations on Friday May 23rd. Contributors include Minotaur Shock (4AD), John McEntire (Tortoise/The Sea & Cake), The High Llamas (Drag City), David Pajo (Slint/Papa M), Mice Parade (Fat Cat), Jeniferever (Drowned in Sound) and John Parish (PJ Harvey) amongst others. Visit for more information.

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May 15, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 26: Xiu Xiu

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 8:09 am


“My favorite place to make music is my living room. The Xiu Xiu studio, called “thee fallings out brose studio”, has been there, interrupting my life since I moved into my current apartment in 2005. It is both hyper productive and socially stunting to be able to look at it from my bedroom’s open door.

There is a nice view from my second storey window out over the tops of trees. There are bird feeders outside the window and their chattering and calls frequently sneak into songs. The sun shines in at about 5pm and I have to lower my head if I am to see the computer screen or I will go blind. But then again it forces me to listen harder as I cannot see anything.

My dad used to work at digidesign, the company that makes Pro Tools so he stole me a pile of prototypes when he worked there. It is a good, if Frankenstein-ian set up. I had to get it fixed once and the pro tools guys laughed at me the whole time as nothing I own should work but somehow it does. Also there is a pedal called the fuzz probe. DIRTY! Then a few guitars, piano, some weirder stringed instruments, a massive collection of gongs and bells a cheapo micro Korg that everyone on earth bought in 2003. But it rules. The only cool guitar I have is a 1953 Silvertone. It is too fragile to tour with but I love to record with it.

I adore quiet. Sometimes I have to wait for the neighbouring yardwork to stop before proceeding. I got a new mic – amusingly called “the Woodpecker” – that has been quaintly observing the bird theme and as well sounding beautiful. Isolation is essential for me, and also a total curse. I love to immerse myself in microscopic details and at times I think that is what makes a song sound fresh, the subtle parts. But this can lead to a myopic ear (?) so a friend is always welcome to say what to do next. I think I need about 40 hours alone and one hour with someone with perspective to fix all my errors.

The writing process depends on the tune but often I do love to take to a dumb sound like crappy direct guitar to establish the harmony and structure, and then over-record and over-improvise on top and that. Then I cull away the majestic wanking and hopefully find a song beneath the “experiments”. The mute and volume automation in Pro Tools is invaluable for this.

Equipment-wise, we use oft-mentioned cattle prod tools, Event monitors, a few fairly basic tube Pre-amps – Summit, Belari (totally cheap, but gnarly sounding) – a crap but distinctive HHB with a compressor and then a couple of Summit limiters. Nothing special, but all work horses. I have two good mics by Blue that seem to work on about everything and then a junk SM57 that was used at a Magic Mountain ride that a friend stole that has a huge on/off switch. It is great for a certain type of vocal. I also use a bunch of older plug-ins, and I’ve just learned to smash up. I like the idea of having less and learning odd placements, or over extending an intent rather than having massive amounts of gear. I have developed a pedal fetish as of late. Terrible, but useful habit.

What I love most about this space is that it reminds me of David Lynch.”

Xiu Xiu are an experimental US outfit whose 2008 album Women as Lovers received garnered a collective thumbs up from critics. Their genre criss-crossing takes in folk, electronic, shoegaze and post-rock. They play Whelan’s in Dublin on Thursday May 22nd. For more information, gig dates and tracks, visit

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May 8, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 25: Robotnik

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 10:14 am


“My favourite space to create music would have to be at home, specifically this tiny room with hardly any space in it to move. Actually, the smaller the room the better the feeling of being creative! Big studios are kind of odd to record in and any experience I’ve had of them has certainly dismantled the idea of being creative. One of the best things I ever bought was an IAUDIO (mp3 voice recorder). After a good feed and having just watched a classic Woody Allen movie, usually I pick up the guitar and play a few silly riffs, then I quickly land on something I like. Years ago I’d be stuck on where to record it, but now I have the IAUDIO always by my side and it’s able to capture the moment instantly. This impulsive way of being creative works best for me.

The room where I record in is full of midi keyboards, cupboards, George Bush masks, synths, six guitars, microphones, a sauce pan, keyboard stands, mic stands, prison uniforms, a drum kit stocked up at the side, trumpets, gorilla puppets, triangles, melodicas, xylophones, slippers, underwear, trousers, harmonicas, spoons, jumpers, socks, speakers, laptop, scrabble, an old wooden chair, a green screen, two amps, tons of percussive instruments and a microwave just in case i get peckish. What I’m trying to say is that it’s tiny, with too much stuff in it! That’s why it’s perfect.

The most important thing to have in this space, apart from the instruments and sound recording gear, is time itself. Having time to relax and go at my own pace is very important. During the recording of my debut album Pleasant Square, I quickly began to spend more and more time in this little room. In the beginning stages of recording the album, I did quite a bit of recording in my engineer’s studio, but soon realised that by being able to record myself, it easily created musical moments that would have been impossible to capture in a normal studio recording setting. So not only was this the place where I chilled out and wrote alot of songs, but it ended up being the room where I recorded most of my first album. Hence, many hours crammed into it.

In regards to writing material, I personally feel there is no schedule for when you write. Maybe some people do that and it works for them, but I never ever think too hard on what I’m going to write about and when I’m going to write it. For example, I use to write a lot of lyrics down, but in the last year or so – usually when I get hooked on a melody for a couple of days and decide to have a go at recording it – the lyrics are the final step in completing the tune. In other words, the free associative method (recording lyrics on the spot) of writing lyrics works perfectly for me. You’ll be happy to know that this method of writing saves on the amount of paper being used.

Working alone is a wonderful environment when being creative. Having said that, some of my fondest memories of being creative are of times when I jammed ’til all hours in the morning with close friends. It’s not about being isolated or surrounded by lots of people. I feel a creative mind is a mind that feels comfortable with oneself in whatever environment they may be in. I could be stuck in a lift for hours and it might be the perfect place to write, yet I could be in a room full of every musical instrument you can imagine and not feel creative simply because I’m not feeling comfortable in my own skin. That’s just me.

Overall, what I like most about my own space is that it has helped me complete the biggest challenge in my life so far, the completion of my first album. Within the four walls of this tiny room, there was a period of time where I didn’t worry about what people thought of me or what they have to say about my music. What was beautiful about recording my album in the room, was that I was very much myself in my own little world.”

Robotnik released the very catchy single ‘People Walk Away’ (video link in this post) in April, ahead of the release of his debut album Pleasant Square tomorrow, May 9th. He plays Upstairs @ Whelan’s on Saturday May 10th. Tickets are €15 and on sale from the WaV box office now. For more information, gig dates and tracks, visit

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May 3, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 24: Thao Nguyen

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 12:56 pm


“I like any space that is void of other people and most furniture. But I like the option to sit, stand, or lay down while playing guitar. Since we are on tour much more than we are stationary, I don’t have much leeway to be specific, but the most I can hope for is that there is access to hot water for tea. And a bathroom. I like dim lighting in any situation, creative or otherwise. The last place I worked on a song was in a hotel in Carmel, California. Quality Inn. It was fantastic.

I always have my Gibson (acoustic) with me, as well as, my notebook and several good pens, because I lose them. And lots of guitar picks, for the same reason. Only when I feel a song is pretty complete will I borrow somebody’s Mac book and record it in Garageband to send to the fellows. What’s most important for me when I’m working is no clutter, no people, fresh fruit, hot tea. And wine sometimes. And a cigarette very rarely. And whiskey. Less rare than cigarette but still pretty rare.

I only write when I feel compelled to do so. I wish I wasn’t one of those people. The new record should be underway and I’m lying around in hotel rooms eating pistachiaos. I write all the songs alone and then present them to the band for their contributions and we work out arrangements. All my songs are quite autobiographical, so probably the writing starts when some shit has gone down. The songs dictate themselves – some refuse to be completed, some refuse to be good. If I do finish one, I play it over and over again, and then I walk away from it and if I still hum the melody or feel the urge to hear it again, I keep it. Then I demo the song`, or play it for the band, and we start to build it up from there. I’ll also send rough demos to Tucker our producer so he can start marinating as well.

To record, I use a borrowed Mac because I use Garageband minimally. I also use my guitar, my voice, my memory, but that is fading fast.”

US folk singer songwriter Thao Nguyen released her second album We Brave Beestings And All earlier this year on Kill Rock Stars. She plays Dublin’s Crawdaddy tomorrow, Sunday May 4th. For more information, gig dates and tracks, visit

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May 2, 2008

Musical Rooms Irish Times column: The Jimmy Cake

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 9:01 pm
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“It’s difficult to pinpoint any specific creative space for The Jimmy Cake. During the writing process, it’s quite rare for us to find ourselves in the same room. Over the past eight years, we’ve developed a unique approach to collaborating. Assembling a track can actually be quite frightening, as the sheer size of the band requires an unusual level of organisation.

“Our new album uses a string quartet, a brass band, electronics and a second percussionist, in addition to our already sizeable nine members, so I’m sometimes faced with arranging hundreds of separate recordings.

“Although most of the band are based in Dublin, I do all the production work here in my studio in Tipperary. It’s quite a simple, quiet area in a converted attic in my home, and is something of a haven. It has only one small window, but has a fantastic view over the Shannon. There is no telephone line, television or internet here, so it’s an amazing place to just get away from it all and immerse myself in making music.

“I’ll often use specific spaces around the country to record various instruments, but in the end, everything ends up here. This room is only used for composing and production, so everything revolves around the computers and control devices. I do a lot of work for film so there are plenty of screens and a big surround-sound system here. I’ve been immersed in music technology since quite a young age (when I was 10, Phil Lynott gave me a tour of Windmill Lane studios while I perched on his head), and as a result of that exposure, I don’t tend to imbue studio equipment with any sort of magical qualities. In fact, removing equipment from the creative space is often the most fruitful course of action.

“The computer is probably the most important tool here, and I could probably work anywhere as long as I had that and a good set of speakers. Without a doubt the most thrilling aspect of this room is watching all the individual recordings mesh together and come to life. Sometimes that does actually feel a little like magic.”

The Jimmy Cake’s third album, Spectre and Crown, is out now on Pilatus Records. For more, see

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Musical Rooms in The Irish Times

dawn2From today, I’m delighted to say that the Musical Rooms will appear as an occasional column in The Ticket, in The Irish Times. People have been very supportive of the series since it started on the blog back in November. Musicians who read it confess that it’s a bit like Through the Keyhole for them, without the nasally guided tour by Lloyd Grossman of course. Here’s some background on how it all started, and a full index of all the contributing acts to date.

Particularly recommended are Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip’s toilet, the
kitchen antics of this year’s Choice Music Prize winners Super Extra Bonus Party, James Yorkson and his stuffed heron, Adrian Crowley’s attic hideout and Dawn Landes’ New York recording studio.

The first Musical Rooms piece, featuring The Jimmy Cake, can found here in today’s Ticket.

May 1, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 23: Essie Jain

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 9:06 am


“The only place I like to create music is always my house in New York – I’ve never been one of those folks who’s able to pick up a guitar and write music in a moving vehicle. The room itself is compact and small, it’s recently been painted the colour purple, and it’s tucked in at the edge of my house, with one window – the sunlight can take a while to make its way round the building, so it’s a fair bit darker than the rest of my home.

For a while there, it was all white walls, and it had nothing in it other than piles of random, small items and some instruments – but lately, I’ve felt the need to start working on it, getting it filled up with more things to bring in the warmth. A while ago, the most important thing to have in that space would have been candles, because the ceiling lights went out… but last month, my friend bought in a lamp.

I use a public internet connection from one of the cafe’s downstairs, which is next to my building – right now, that room is the only area in my house where my airport picks it up, so I’m in there a lot on the computer. My guitar has been staring at me lately, complaining that I don’t give it enough attention, which is true. I’ve always found myself writing music in the middle of the night –
there is something quite strange in the air during those hours that I like being a part of. Sometimes you can truly, only do the work alone, and sometimes you really need other people to be there with you, to bring their characters into your world. I think it depends on where you are at any given moment.

I like the fact that this room is not finished yet – and I get to make it into whatever it’s becoming.”

Essie Jain released her debut album We Made This Ourselves on the reknowned Leaf label last month. Her soft, tapered vocals have been compared to Vashti Bunyan and the album consists of sparse pianos and percussion by Jim White (PJ Harvey, Dirty Three, Will Oldham). London-born, but based in New York, Jain has already completed a second album, The InBetween, due for release this month in the US. For more information, gig dates and tracks, visit

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