Musical Rooms

October 25, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 47: Story of Hair

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 11:34 am
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storyofhair

“We write and practice music in our guitarist, Amanda’s house. It’s pretty unique as the house is situated on a working farm in Dublin city, surrounded by donkeys, peacocks, giant Finnish rabbits and assorted animals, including our favourite, Molly (a red Retriever). We’re lucky to be able to have our gear permanently set up in a room in the house. It’s the room that Amanda also uses for dressmaking by day, so we share the space with a mannequin, fabric, patterns and sewing machines. Even though its quite a spacious room we still manage to cram it with gear, rubbish, props, sweat (the boys) and glow (the girls). There’s a nice pastoral view of fields and bales of hay from the windows and a balcony from the hallway for smoking.

When we first started to practice there, we had a very basic set-up. Ger had to rely on a snare drum and a cardboard box with a kick pedal, and Paul had to play bass through a small practice amp, while Amanda and I “elephanted” over them with our guitars. These days we’ve got two drum kits, two Fender guitar amps, an Ashdown bass amp, electronic drum machine, glockenspiel, keyboard and stylophone. We have mics going into small guitar amps for the vocals and from time to time the room also sees acoustic guitars, banjo, omnichord and an eclectic mix of noise making toys and shakers.

We’ve got an eight-track recording unit and laptop with Pro-tools for putting down demos of new songs. These recordings invariably start with someone shouting “WE’RE ROLLING” and pretty much always end with confused laughter. There will often be one lost Hair pretending that they know the new song better than they do and who will be natching out cheesy jazzy riffs or beats with an air of fake confidence. On the nights when we’re too lazy or strapped for time to set everything up, mobile phones are used to record anything that might come out of the ether and which might disappear just as quick unless committed to sim card.

Just having the four of us together with some combination of our gear is the most important aspect of the room. If there’s a jam when one person can’t make it we might work on new stuff. Anything that’s not sounding right will be left for the missing person to “fix”! It’s a pretty good incentive to try to make it to as many rehearsals as possible! Generally, we try to get two jams in a week, but this can increase depending on upcoming gigs or if we’re writing new material. From time to time, when full amplification is needed to rehearse for gigs we use a rehearsal studio in town. Every now and again we’ll have a few weeks when one of the jams turns into an “admin” session where we might be doing anything from sending emails, making phone calls, planning videos or making balloon portraits of ourselves. All of these things are equally important to us. A good portion of every night there is also taken up with tea, childish laughing fits and inappropriate joking.

In terms of developing an idea into a fully-fledged song it is essential that all four of us are together, in the same room, at the same time. Besides the four of us, the only visitor we ever have is Molly, the aforementioned red Retriever. She always thinks she wants to be in the middle of things but then changes her mind as soon as we start to make noise.

All of us write so the process usually involves one of us bringing ideas for a song to the room, wherein it goes through the grinder with everyone adding their parts. Different tempos are tried, parts are changed/dropped/added until hey presto a song emerges that we’re all happy with. It can often emerge a completely different song to the initial idea and we’ve been known to have to draw out maps in order to find our way through new songs before demo-ing them! When we have the basis of a song we put down a rough demo on the eight-track and we all take a copy away. That way we can have a good listen before the next practice and decide what bits to change.

Sometimes the vocals are the last thing to come. Lyrics might come from one of us singing something nonsensical over the top; or else from something we’ve read or heard on news. I don’t think we’ll ever be the type of band to write about how hot we think someone looks.

The best thing about our space is its location; it’s like an oasis of fresh air in the smoggy city. Three of us are from the country so being able to have a piece of that in the city is great. It definitely has an impact on our music. The contradictory nature of the location reflects the dichotomy prevalent in our music, noisy yet poppy and accessible. Also, the room itself has an odd sense of “nostalgia in the making”, and leaving at the end of a night always contains an air of excitement about our next rehearsal.”

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Story of Hair are a four piece noise-pop outfit based in Dublin, featuring Ger Staunton on drums and Glock, Paul Brett on bass and vocals, Amanda Eustace on guitar and keys and Caroline Carew on guitar and vocals. Their debut album Cheap Rate was recorded by Steve Shannon at Experimental Audio and will be released nationwide on October 24th. The Dublin launch takes place on Friday October 31st upstairs in Whelans (a Hefty Horse Presentation). They also play Fletchers, Waterford tonight (October 25th) support to Future of the Left at Whelan’s, Dublin on November 14th, The Roisin Dubh, Galway, on November 20th and Bakers Place, Limerick on November 28th.

For more information visit www.myspace.com/storyofhair or www.storyofhair.com.

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October 21, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 46: Polly Fibre

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 9:00 am
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pollyfibre

“My studio is an art studio rather than a recording studio but most of my inspiration for sound works comes from visual and material things. It’s in London near Waterloo station, and actually, I’m right under a railway bridge so I’ve become accustomed to the sound of trains rumbling overhead contributing to whatever I’m working on.

In it, there’s a huge table; several sewing machines of different ‘vintages’; various sized tailoring shears, and a collection of irons. Then there are lots of boxes of papers, fabrics and cards; miscellaneous haberdashery items that might look more at home in a David Cronenberg movie. At the moment I’ve ditched my laptop and am really enjoying working with effects pedals. I find sewing machine pedals respond really well to guitar pedals…For me, the most important thing here is probably my big table. If I don’t have a big flat surface to work on I get claustrophobic. Sharp pencils and big sheets of paper are good too – the important thing is having it all around you so the hierarchies can shift and change as a project evolves.

I try to come here every day except for when I’m teaching, and when it comes to working, I don’t like isolation, which is hard because it is easier to really get into a piece when you’re on your own – I suppose that’s why I like the trains overhead. I do work alone mostly especially when I’m working something out but it’s good fun when the other polly-dollys come over to rehearse. When they are not there, I sometimes chat to my dummies.

In terms of the creative process, drawing is important, and collage. I usually start by trying to draw from memory something I’ve looked at on my laptop a million times but can’t quite picture like, for example, the Bluetooth symbol. These language elements are developed with experimentation using objects and materials and arranged in relation to the ideas I’m interrogating at a particular time. At the moment the aesthetic is quite aggressive; I’m enjoying the weight of the irons, the grind of machine motors, pedal feedback and noise patterns. Polly Fibre is in pursuit of a post-digital calm where the desire for this kind of analogue, tactile and direct impact is no longer at odds with the so-called virtuality of digital media. I amplify mostly everything with contact microphones and plug into a SoundCraft mixing desk.

It’s such a luxury to have a space where you don’t have to tidy up for dinner; a place where your ideas can safely be at their most vulnerable.”

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Started by Christine Ellison in 2005 Polly Fibre are a trio which includes Lucyanna Moore and Laura Hyland. Based in London they call themselves “the most successful sonic-sewing act of the 21st century.” They use the language of fashion to investigate fashions of language. Dressmaking tools are adapted into crude sonic instruments “and used to deconstruct words and symbols of the creative industries that currently dominate our sensibilities.” Polly Fibre play The Sugar Club on Sunday October 26th supporting legendary electronic pioneers White Noise as part of the DEAF Festival. Broadcast and Andy Votel’s B-Music will be on the turntables til late. Doors open at 7.30pm and admission is €15 /€10 (after 11.30). For more information visit www.myspace.com/pollyfibre or www.myspace.com/maximumjoyclub.

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October 17, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 45: Indian Jewelry

indianjewelry

“We have had a space of our own for about eleven non-contiguous months over the past four and a half years, so we have learned to work wherever we can. Most recently, however, we were renting a house in Houston where we converted the utility room into a music room. The room was small and the floor was rotting, so we covered the walls in Afghans, Sarapes, and tiger blankets in an ineffective attempt to soundproof the room and recreate a forcefield installation. Because we bought many of these blankets from a nearby thrift store, there is always an off-smell residing with us. We light it with soft-wattage lamps and our strobe lights.

In the room, there are wires, cables and power strips everywhere. There are also amplifiers, drums, guitars and synthesizers (most of them broken). Now the majority of our gear – everything that we don’t pile into the van – is stacked floor to ceiling in the study of Erika’s grandmother’s house.

The most important thing for us to have in that space is time. Since we spent most of last year slaving on the album, we worked on music after hours and at weekends. Isolation is not important to me as I come from a large family and I can work anywhere, but for Erika, it is a different story – she prefers to work alone.

The creative process can start anytime, anywhere: long drives; long walks; sitting still; zoning out during the loudest shows. We are always writing. Erika gets songs in dreams. I get them in bits and pieces. Words are everywhere. Rhythms are everywhere. Music is everywhere. It is only the will to work that is ever in short supply.

For making music, we use anything that is ready to hand and works at least half of the time. Recently we acquired a digital 32-track recorder; before that we used a digital 8-track and before that we used a cassette four-track to make our records.

What we like most about our space is that the world is large and belongs to us.”

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This Saturday October 18th, Skinny Wolves launch Indian Jewelry’s Sangles Redux record with a gig upstairs at Whelan’s Dublin. The record features a collection of some of their early recordings – some previously released on vinyl (now out of press) and some never released before. Earlier this year, the band released Free Gold on We Are Free Records (also home to Yeasayer, Pony Tail) and Fake and Cheap on Deleted Art (No Age, Mika Miko, These Are Powers). 20 Jazz Funk Greats says of them: “’Witness the hoes of Babylon destroy it live with the brain-fried intensity of the Velvet Underground off their faces on Peyote soundtracking Lost Highway if it had been directed by Harmony Korine, rattlesnake & shake, pure venom.” For more info, go here or visit www.myspace.com/indianjewelry.

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October 15, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 44: Mahjongg

Filed under: Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 4:04 pm
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mahjongg

“Our studio in Chicago and is an acoustically insulated Grey Room attached to a control chamber, with a drum isolation room and a vocal booth. By leaving the basic structure simple we customize the environment to the project we’re working on. For instance our last show we started this thing Stage Coach, just two of us from Mahjongg. We both sat down – me surrounded by a bank of computers, mixing equipment, and a couple of hand drums – and Michael Chochran, Jr next to me playing drums and keyboards that are in turn sent back through me and my computer. We also had a light sensitive diode on top to solo [with a light bulb], and a bucket of glass patched in there as well. This was all covered by some tank netting draped over all our gear back to the top of our 4000 watt sub, and a bank of some Ministry-ass looking grates I found in the basement. Then we hooked up the fog and this laser light we ordered from China that’s so magnify-intense it’s said it’s illegal to manufacture them in The States.

In our Chicago studio we add a bunch of odd drums, a piano, analogue keyboards, Styrofoam, water and metal bowls. Our most prize possession is the Quad 8 mixing council. The most important thing to have in our studio is my friends and my computer. We’ve put so much stuff into that space it’s hard to quantify importance. We built the floors, walls, ceilings and cabled the whole thing, and sealed it all up.

I’m here pretty much all the time. We do have a schedule and there’s a white board calendar where we write down whatever project is going on that day and who has a show and where. We’ve been recording some other people too. Most recently our chief engineer Benjamin Balcom has been recording narration for a documentary made by Kartemquin. We’ve recorded our friends’ bands Lazer Crystal, CAVE, The Chandeliers and Waterbabies.

I work two ways: alone and in a group. I do one or the other every day and I feel that’s the true path to realizing your personal music potentiality. I come up with ideas alone sometimes and then share them with my friends. Then we constructively break them beat them down and build them back up. I think that you can always tell music that is made alone and music that is made with a group and the group aesthetic is typically better.

I usually start with rhythms that are real simple and then trick them out on the computer. Then I play them, record them then and chop them up again. Sometimes I start hitting a drum or a piano key and make up a song with my inner voice. I think that the element of pseudo randomness that comes from the quantization of information on the machine helps me pick out patterns from the chaos when I’m blending sounds. I use a lot of equipment but it’s basically drums talking to computers and dudes trying to sing on top and then back through the computers, but we use pretty much anything we can get our hands on. I use junk and then guitars and skin and pianos and pure noise analogue digital – you name it, I got it, but it’s probably falling apart whatever it is.

What I like most about this space is that my best friend, Josh Johannpeter is there a lot.”

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Mahjongg are a Chicago-based, Missouri-born post-afro-funk- soul-dance-electronic collective or as Pitchfork calls them, “Chicago’s herkiest, jerkiest, motleyist crew of post-punkers”. They bring their collection of drums, percussion, roto toms, effects, samples and many synths upstairs to Whelans, Dublin on Friday 17th October, followed by an all night dance party courtesy of Skinny Wolves & Maximum Joy DJs. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/machinegong.

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October 7, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 43: The Creeping Nobodies

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 12:10 pm
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creeping1

“Our space is a basement in a detached home in downtown Toronto. It is an older house from around 1917. Some of us used to live here for a time, but its current occupants are other artists, musicians and other folks – some of who are friends and peers. The basement was renovated a few years back when Chuck lived there, so soundproofing, better walls and insulation were installed. The basement consists of a main rehearsal room with soundproofed doors and walls and ceiling – it’s a modestly sized room painted a deep red with a small chalk board, many instruments and amplifiers, two couches, exposed beams in the ceiling, Christmas lights, some drawers and bins for storage, and a four-track recorder. The floor is wood-stained plywood that has been mostly covered with removable rugs.

There is a small back room off the main room which has been used to record banging and clanging percussion; the clothes dryer has been used for recording vocals and the room has been crammed with items to clear out the main room for a house show. There’s also a separate washroom which has functioned as a control room for recordings from time to time. The house has been a practice space/space for house shows during some heady years in Toronto.

It’s really important things to have proper lighting here – something cosy and non-fluorescent. We like having a lot of percussion or odd items on hand to keep our interest, and for us to have fun trying to do things in less obvious ways. It’s nice once in awhile to share a drink in the space, although not essential by any means. More important than anything else is for us as a group to be excited and well rested.

It’s usually impossible to tell when/what will inspire you, so our method is to get together regularly just to see what might happen. Some of us like to work as a group and on individual time. I find working together and in the same space to be the most rewarding. It also fulfils a need to have a dynamic work method that works on musical feedback and reactions and responses. I also enjoy working in a focused way on my own – mostly to try out ideas or sounds that would not work in a loud setting or a group setting. This is especially true when I want to learn technical aspects or try out new equipment.

Mostly we gather in this basement with our equipment and randomly clang and bang until some interesting sound/motif/melody appears which we all gravitate towards. Sometimes we each arrive with specific ideas or musical phrases which we test out in the context of the group. At others we simply play what we had in mind during a random clang together and if the result is interesting, it will often be picked up on by the group. We record a lot of our practice on a simple four-track cassette recorder with three or four mics that have been left permanently set up in the room. We’ll take these home, transfer them to the computer and MP3’s and then pass them around to each other in order to facilitate discussion and ideas and decide for ourselves what we’re most excited about and want to work on.

Recently we’ve been experimenting with new instruments and sounds, but we regularly use items such as Recorders, Thunderstick, wood blocks, tambourines, metal chains, a metal bucket, a xylophone, a children’s toy with animal and drum sounds (held up to the guitar pickup), an electric toothbrush, a telephone mic, two timpani drums, a homemade motor box, drumsticks, a rattling hand percussion instrument, a piece of sheet metal, pieces of tin, a metal pot, a garbage can lid, cowbells, and other percussion I’ve probably forgotten.

For guitars we use a fender Musicmaster guitar, Fender Jaguar guitar, Fender mustang bass and some sort of Strat copy guitar (Samick? Yamaha?); for keyboards we’ve used a Yamaha DX7, a cheap home use Kawai, a very small children’s Casio and recently a Korg Polysix. Our amps are a Fender twin, a Yamaha solid state twin, an Ampeg V4B & 8×10 cabinet. We also use a Traynor power amp and JBL speaker to run vocal effects and drum pads and such when we have the room to bring it. We also use three Audix OM7 mics because they have a very narrow pickup pattern and we can get away with louder volumes without feedback especially for quieter sounds such as the recorder or woodblocks and other quieter percussion used in a loud setting.

We have a mixer we bring to run our own effects off our vocals. We connect a number of delay pedals to the mixer, as well as a noise gate in order to run the effects loudly without feedback. From time to time we use a Boss drum pad through this mixer and sometimes we experiment with telephone mics and tremolo to change the vocals.

For pedals we’ve long been using overdrive boxes such as the Boss OD-1 (our favourite) and Maxon overdrive, but also other distortion boxes like Rat pedals and an Ibanez turbo tubescreamer and a Big Muff. Recently we’ve been playing around more with pedals such as Moogs – Ring Modulator, Phasor and delay, a home built delay, a Boss Super Chorus, a Boss phase shifter, EQ pedals, as well as a Digitech Jamman loop pedal and we use two signal splitters so that two of us can switch instruments/amplifiers with ease. In the practice space we have a cheap Peavey P.A, a simple Tascam four-track and some regular mics for recording. We transfer the cassettes to a laptop at home via some Opensource recording software and a cheap mic-to-USB accessory.

What we like most about our space is that it’s not a ‘rehearsal factory’. There are no other bands practicing on the other side of a less-than-soundproofed wall. We share this basement with two to three other bands and it means we have a lot of time available. We know everyone else and can have a lot of space and security knowing who else is in there. It’s nice to be able to throw open the back door and be outside in just a few steps. There are squirrels and birds in the trees out back and the odd cat that pays a visit. The space itself sounds great to us – we can hear each other well and while the volume is loud, it doesn’t bounce around the room and become excruciating. For some reason, the room also records well. We’ve been very fortunate in that we can throw up a couple of random mics and when we listen back to the four-track recordings it’s quite clear and very sympathetic to our sounds. We like the chalkboard on the wall where we can leave lame jokes for our friends who share the space.”

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Inspired by such bands as The Ex, Pere Ubu, and The Fall, Canada’s The Creeping Nobodies seek to produce challenging music and are never afraid to explore new territory or re-invent themselves. They play The Boom Boom Room on 34 O’ Connell St, Dublin this Saturday October 11th. Doors are 8.30pm, admission is €10 and support comes from Anni Rossi, Rollin’ Hunt and Thread Pulls. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/thecreepingnobodies.

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October 2, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 42: Armoured Bear

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 11:49 am
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armoured

“I think when inspiration hits you, no matter what the location, it’s always the same buzz. That’s how it feels for me, like you’re suddenly online after your dial-up internet finally connects, (Oh, how I DON’T miss that sound) and there’s a world of opportunity and wonder at your fingertips. Location does play a part in the initial stages of a song, and if I had a choice between the studio, an apartment in the city, a car at the side of the road or West Cork, I’d go with the obvious. Whether I’m down at Inchydoney beach with my guitar being hypnotized by the ocean, watching a fox run through my garden or in de Barra’s with my notepad and pen, the opportunity to be swept away by inspiration at the click of a finger is far greater than if you’re cooped up in a Rubik’s cube of metropolis. That being said once you get down to it, your imagination and creativity will do the work and a lack of comfort and scenery won’t stop that from happening.

I always make sure I have some form of Dictaphone with me. It might be my phone, or some portable studio equipment. An idea for a song can come fast and hard like a jab, but it might not leave a bruise so you tend to forget it just as quick. I’d often pull over the car to record a snippet of an idea. Aside from that, the guitar, and my notepad, rehearsals are usually laced with everything we’d use live. Drums, bass, guitars, various pedals (some we use, some we disregard) and again recording it for a reference is usually handy.

Distractions can come easily if you let them. Taking a break to make a cup of tea or coffee can often turn into a kick of a soccer ball, then into lunch and into an afternoon nap followed by a trip to the shop. They’re time consuming exercises but inspiration could come when you least expect it. The trick is to be disciplined enough to latch onto it when it hits.

I love nothing more than to be in front of the fire when writing. It easily supplies a means to escape and delve into your creative abyss, it also doesn’t distract when you’re working hard on an idea. A cup of tea, or a good lashing of hot chocolate is never far away either.

Depending on the stage of the song, isolation can help or hinder. In its infancy I think being able to hear your own thoughts is paramount. It’s when you flesh it out with the band that isolation doesn’t work. That seems very black & white I guess, but you can’t get too caught up on complexities, otherwise the meaning can get lost.

It’s rare for me that a song has been written in the same way as one that has preceeded it. I like to write a lot, gibberish mostly but always colourful. Hand picking some gems [sentences or descriptions] and carefully placing them into a song has always been a style of writing that works for me. Because of that, I don’t often know what a song is about until after it’s completely finished. Sometimes it can take a song in a totally different direction, almost as if the song wanted to walk another path. It does usually conclude with a meaning that I’m surprised by, and hopefully a song that enjoyable to play and to listen to.

I’m a complete romantic in the sense that I’m always thinking of someone or something when I’m writing a song. Even if the song may seem like a magical fairy tale, or a ridiculous string of sentences, there’s real events and real people hidden behind driving it.”

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Armoured Bear’s debut album Honeycomb Moons is released on October 3rd. They play Dolan’s in Limerick on Wednesday October 8th, The Pavilion in Cork on Thursday October 9th and Sunday October 12th at The Roisin Dubh, Galway. For more information, visit www.armouredbear.com.

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October 1, 2008

R.I.P. Derrick Dalton

Filed under: Music — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 11:15 am
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Tragically, this week musician Derrick Dalton passed away.

He was a fine songwriter, guitarist and Rickenbacker lover as well as a gentle soul, a lovely person and a great laugh. He was a huge supporter of music in Dublin and I bumped into him and Laura at countless gigs, big and small, local and international.

Over the years, Derrick played variously with Hey Paulette, Mexican Pets, Crumb and with his own project Aeromodeller.

He will be much missed and my sympathies are with his wife Laura, his family and his many friends.

R.I.P. Derrick.

Hey Paulette – ‘I Really do Love Penelope’

Crumb – ‘Lights of the City’ – live in Tokyo

Links:
www.myspace.com/crumbmusic
www.myspace.com/heypaulettemusic
www.myspace.com/mexicanpets
www.myspace.com/aeromodeller
Crumb site
Tribute thread on Thumped.com
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