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All of the tracks are improvised, at least to begin with. Our improvs tend to be pretty "song like" I think, but they are improvisations, even the tracks with the chord progressions. Some of the tracks go on the records as they are with no overdubs, and on a few we add a vocal or guitar and edit the piece into a structure. We're doing more and more editing and mixing the tracks on a computer these days, we've got some better recording equipment now. Still, we like to start by just jamming and seeing what happens.
We've recorded in a lot of different places, but mostly just in my basement in Virginia and in some rehearsal studios in New York. We recently recorded some material during a trip to Texas to play at a "space rock" festival. I like going to different places to record, each has it's own sound and feeling.
The tracks are improvised but we've put them together in song form or in little collages to make it flow, otherwise, I think it would sound even more like aimless jamming that it already does. We've tried to edit out the bad parts, I guess. I would go back and make all the records shorter now, If I could, I'd make the pieces more concise. All of our records have mostly been recorded live to 2 Track (DAT) and these hasn't been a lot of possibility of changing the tracks around because none of the instruments were isolated. In some cases, we've taken a bit of a performance and looped it to change the structure around - there's some of that on "Feng Shui," on "Copper Mountain" and "Airport Giftshop," those pieces both have a couple of minutes where there is a loop of all 3 of us playing with overdubs on top of it. We recently bought an 8 track recorder and some more computer stuff so the new tracks we're working on have a lot more "studio" editing and recording. The basis of all the tracks are still our improvs, but now we have a lot more control over how they're edited and mixed. We haven't actually finished any tracks that we've recorded that way, they're taking a lot longer because there's so many new possibilties for us now. Some of that stuff will come out on Kranky soon, we hope.
It's just the three of us, Justin Chearno : guitar, Bill Kellum : guitar (and bass and vocal, where necessary), Matt Kellum : drums. There's a little bass on "Feng Shui," but none on our other records. I am dubbing it on to most of the tracks we're working on now. We're also using the computer to alter some of the guitar sounds to get some different effects.
We haven't played live very much since we live so far apart these days, but we'd like to play a lot more, hopefully that will happen soon. Our live shows have sounded pretty much like the records, a little louder and more noisy, I guess. We just improvise, the last show we did we improvised all the vocals and chord changes on a couple of "folk" type songs too, before turning them into our usual long jams.
When the band started in 1994, we all lived in Virginia near Washington DC, but now Matt lives in Dallas, texas and Justin lives in New York City, so we've only been getting together to record a few times a year. Washington has a fairly "good" scene for punk and indie rock but not so much for bands like us. There are some other weird bands from here, Labradford, Pelt, Rake, Wingtip Sloat, etc.
We have a weird mix of influences, I think. I am a big fan of psychedelic and Krautrock, but I don't think Matt and Justin are familiar with any of those groups at all, so they kind of lessen the tendency to have a jam that sounds just like Can or something. I think of the Grateful Dead and Gong and Amon Duul and Ash Ra Tempel as all playing psychedelic, you know? Some of the German groups were trying to copy American West-Coast Psychedelia, bands like Agitation Free were _very_ Grateful Dead influenced, but because of their isolation in Germany and the influence of the experimental spirit that was going on there at the time, they developed their own unique sound.
I know our records are hard to get. They are distributed in most countries, but it's very difficult to get the stores to order them because they are imports and are expensive because of duties. Most of the decent european distributors have gone completely into just selling techno records, which we're not really a part of. Maybe we should do a remix record! We'd love to come and play there but until we have a release on a European label that can bring us over, it's not going to happen.
Well, the labels are in charge of it, but the distribution of small label records is very complicated and in some cases the label can't do much about it. The distributors in the US are hard enough to work with, but in Europe it's extra complicated because of very high import duties, the difficulty in returning unsold records, and that each distributor has certain labels that it demands an exclusive relationship with - so for example, if you want EFA in Germany to sell your label's records, they will not let any other German distributors sell your products. It makes it pretty difficult, that's why a lot of labels will license their stuff to European labels. Kranky has done that a little.
How different are your relationships with those two labels ?
Well, VHF is my label, so it's ok on that front. Kranky are great, I don't think we would have made any records without their encouragement. We were just goofing around and making cassettes for ourselves, making a Doldrums record for public release was really their idea. We knew them from when they used to work at a US distributor years ago.
Compared to the other bands on Kranky, improvisation bands like you or Magnog gets less attention from the specialized press in Europe. What about in the USA ?
Well, the music is certainly less accessible than say, Low or Bowery Electric, and since we can't really tour over there, there isn't much opportunity for press. It's pretty much the same in the USA, we get a lot of good reviews but not much else. I keep reading about how we're underrated or overlooked, but so far no one has really done anything to help make up for that, unfortunately.
Not really, but since we're not touring it's really difficult to know for certain. I think that Kranky sell a fair amount of records in Italy, they have a long tradition of supporting guitar/psychedelic music over there.
We'd like to do something like that but getting lighting and film equipment is pretty expensive. I like the collage effect of the old liquid light shows that bands like Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane used to use. The sleeve to "Acupuncture" reflects that, I think. It's actually pictures of some trees in the woods behind my house but it's been altered to have kind of a colorful, light show effect (if you turn the insert on its side you'll see that it's trees). We like cartoons, too, we'd love to do something like that!
Well, I've been doing VHF for about 8 years, which is another interview in itself, I think. I've played in a lot of different bands, most all of them pretty terrible. Justin was in Unrest and then Pitchblende, he's playing with some new guys in New York but they haven't recorded anything. Same with Matt, he's playing in some other bands in Texas now that gig a lot but they're looking for a major deal, they're fairly commerical rock bands. I'd like to design more covers for records but haven't really had too many offers.
Well, I've always been just a big fan of music in general and like most other people who do zines and labels and stuff, those things are just an extension of how much I like it. I think regardless of what happens with our or label, I'll always play my guitar and listen to my records, it's just a part of me, I guess.
No, but a lot of people ask us that. That's a great single! There's also a very nice song by the Chills called "Doldrums." We're thinking of putting out a record under another name to see if more people buy it. If you've got any suggesstions for a name, let us know.
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