Chicago’s Meat Wave holds everything I’ve been looking for in a band lately. Their unabashed sense of marrying post-punk elements with tom heavy straight up rock n’ roll leaves them at a unique position in Chicago’s flourishing scene. I caught up with Chris (vocals/guitar) via email before their lofty gig opening for Jeff The Brotherhood at Subterranean and chatted about all things Meat Wave.
Davves: For three seemingly nice, chill dudes, you make some pretty aggressive music. Where does it all come from?
Chris: I’m more drawn to aggressive music. Music that is really charged in either its tone or lyrics or feel seems to resonate with me more. That being said, we’re chill and all, but we’re all angry and cynical in our own ways. In some ways the world is what you make it, but a lot of the subject matter in the songs is hard for me to ignore. Wealth inequality is infuriating. God-fearing goons can be infuriating. This band is kind of a venue to make that anger somewhat useful, at least for me. I think a great way to depict the ugliness of the world is through music. Plus, it’s fun.
D: As a listener, Meat Wave has a rebellious tone, sparking thoughts of bitterness or angst, or a certain discomfort in a certain place. Is there a message you’re trying to convey with your? music?
C: – There’s not an overall arching message, but I guess a series of messages. I’m definitely not trying to stand on a soapbox. Everyone has their own issues with the world they inhabit and the people they associate with. These are my series of issues I guess, some external, others internal. Beyond the lyrics, I think the music relays some sense of imbalance. It’s urgent and ugly sometimes, other times it locks in nicely. Like life, gnomesayin?
D: What is the song “Too Much” about? I love the lyric in the chorus “But I guess this is not what I need… What I need is a bigger TV so I can finally be able to see”.
C: Too Much is about people just owning a lot of stuff, myself included. Obviously we have the will and freedom to buy anything we’d like, but the climate to do so is fucked. Advertisements everywhere, all the time. It is never ending. It takes up so much physical space. So I think the song is commenting on this system of how things are marketed and sold, but also turns to the individual. We’re at fault too. And I guess that’s where that line comes from, “What I need is a bigger TV, so I can finally be able to see.” I myself am so critical of how things are, but at the end of the day I still want a damn blu-ray player.
D: In a Chicago scene where garage rock is popping up on every corner, and punk is battling to keep its place, where do you think Meat Wave fits in being heavier than the garage rockers yet more put together than the punkers?
C: We’re not sure where we fit in, and I think that’s what we’d prefer. We usually play with loud, fast punk bands which is cool, but we do want to play to all kinds of audiences. I like all kinds of music (except country and rap :P jk), so I personally wouldn’t mind Meat Wave being billed with hip hop or bluegrass or seriously whatever, but people can be discriminatory when it comes to other music. They like punk. They like garage rock. I could see why bands who sound alike stick together, but it could also narrow your view of who you’re reaching or what you’re doing. We haven’t been a band for very long so we’re seeing for ourselves how we’re perceived by different groups. I’m interested to see how people who don’t like punk respond to our music.
D: Currently all Meat Wave has released is a cassette tape, which sold out and has now been rereleased for a second round. Why did you choose what you call on your Facebook an “antiquated technology”, and why do you think the Chicago scene has such an infatuation with it?
C: The tape wasn’t “sold out” per say, but we just don’t know how to work Bandcamp and wanted to let people know that they were coming. We have them now. I think if we had the choice we’d probably put our music out on any medium. Pete from Let’s Pretend was nice enough to put the album out on tape, but we would have just as quickly released vinyl, or CD, or whatever. We’re into it. Ok, maybe not CD.
D: Chicago has a great reputation for its DIY venues, seemingly closing down and popping back up weekly. Have you guys gotten into the DIY scene here? And how do you think it compares to playing more legitimate established venues?
C: We’ve played a few cool DIY shows. Not many though. We either have trouble finding them or like you said, they close. We really like them though. House shows are way more laxed, comfortable. There are tons of great actual venues all over the city too. It’s a good situation to be in.
D: I’m curious, what are your day jobs??
C: I’m a writing tutor at my school and an unpaid intern. I’m finishing up my last semester of school now. Ryan works at Santullos in Wicker Park. Joe works at a printing plant.
D: And of course, as of now any future plans?
C: We’re writing an album right now, that’s really fun. Hoping for a west coast tour in the summer. Some really cool tentative releases in the works, expect new music soonish.
Catch Meat Wave at Quenchers on May 18th with Geronimo!, Hospital Garden, and Destroy This Place. Snag your presale here.
No, this is not Mitt Romney, nor his son Matthew. Matt Romney and his running mate Rob Paul emerged over the summer on Facebook with a simple, resonating message – “honestly partyin.” And “taxe cuts.” And, well, a lot of this:
my directers chair i orderred finallly got delivered today
i’m gonna take it to the white horse and sit in it
and i’ll tell ppl to shout out the name of every taxe and each time im gonna shoutt “CUT! !!” into the megphone thing
that my frends is how you rebuild an america
wat should i get my daughter marie for her birthday in november. she hasnt liked this page yet so dnt worry u can just comment sugestions below.
im thinking of getting her america back. ;)
THE FREDERAL DEAT
1. L(EAGLE)IZE IT
2. DROBS CREATOR
3. I DONT CARE ABOUT WAR IRAN CAN S MY D
message to fatcats:
u can stick youre looppholes up youre pooppholes
(everone should get a taxe cut not just fatcasts]
Matt Romney is the right man for the job, and with just shy of 20,000 likes on Facebook and a real nice-like feature up on Slackstory, I’m not alone on this point. In the alternate universe of the Internet, Romney and Paul are the favorites. I sat down with Romney, meaning I was sitting typing these and he was probably sitting when he responded via email, for five hard-hitting questions.
KB: You’ve yet to align with a party, other than honestly partying. What party, other than a party, do you most closely align with?
MR: well ive said it all alonge im atheist and conservative so who realy knows what party that means because lets face it atheits arent welcome in the narowminded spectrum of politcal thought.
KB: What would the first 100 days of a Matt Romney presidency look like?
MR: lets just say theres only one super bowle now and thered be at least two super bowles when im prez we would proly need at least 100 days to party off the depresion we felt from havin obama as prez jeez that guy
also my favorite bands phill collin, third guy blinde and also my favorite actore tom hank would be proly partyin wit me every day
id also cut taxes by at least 50% the frist day im prez nice
KB: Vice President Biden is known for his foreign policy acumen. How does Rob Paul stack up?
MR: well robs a great guy a true friend and hes always said hell keep america like he keeps his lawn and let me tell u that son of a bitch has a great lawne. as far as the whole foreign police thing i duno hes prolly gona be fine because he likes most foods and travelin by bus and i think hes good at flyin to proly so hell be alright as long as he doesnt expose himself at a walmart like hes done a couple times but hey we all make mistakes
KB: Why were you not allowed to bate last month?
MR: Well its prety simple Fox Ass News was afraid to let me bate becase the estabishment would run scared when they heard my free voice and amerca would turn around and let me cut taxe which is why im here in the first place also im here because obama tried to taxe my dead doge which is fucked btw and also i like to party thankes nice
KB: Other than taxe cuts, how do we rebuild America?
MR: well its called teh economie and its called drobs and im a drob creator simple as that i cut taxe by 50% last year and if u elect me im gona do it again. ive been sayin it since july 12th the day i started runein for prez and im still sayin it let me cute your taxes. simple. get out there and lets get fucked up and party and vote nice. thankes have a great day i love america.
Matt Romney’s the best. If you’d like to donate to the Romney-Paul campaign, just text “white horse” to 30PARTYGUY. You can also buy campaign merchandise from Big Cartel.
On Cobra Juicy, the latest self-released effort from Black Moth Super Rainbow, ringleader Tom Fec (a.k.a Tobacco) abandons much of the Technicolor-hued, whimsical, glitchy carnival of sound that rendered the band instantly recognizable over the past decade. Their distinct arsenal of wonky synths and syrupy, slightly sinister vocoder vox remain in tact of course, but the Black Moth hiatus of the past couple of years (which also saw solo releases from many of the collective’s members) seems to have rebooted the project into BMSR v2.0. Cobra Juicy serves up Black Moth’s most focused effort to date, showcasing a songwriting craft that’s elevated Tobacco’s brainchild into new stratospheres. Cobra Juicy offers a more traditional collection of songs while remaining even harder to categorize at the same time, which is kind of a mindfuck. It’s unequivocally one of the best psych pop efforts to come out in a long time, so it was thrilling to get Fec on the phone and shoot the shit. While he was excited to talk about the new record, he’s really excited to talk about his latest project – prank call outfit Sbarro Hottopic.
KB: I understand you’ve been doing press all day, I hope you’re not too zonked.
T: Nah, I’ve been bike riding today to help keep my brain lubed.
KB: [laughs] I can appreciate that. I wanted to first ask before we get into Cobra Juicy about the 2-3 year break you all took after Eating Us and the change in line-up. What was the impetus for the change and hiatus?
T: I just got tired of what the band was about and the music and back catalog. I was having just a lot more fun, and found it more interesting, with what I was doing with the Tobacco project. I didn’t really see a reason to go back, but I dunno… I kinda started on new music again and it came about organically. I wasn’t trying to make an album through Black Moth or anything, but I was coming up with a bunch of songs that sounded like Black Moth… and actually liked it. So I decided it was time to bring it back.
KB: So what was it that reinvigorated you exactly about the Black Moth project?
T: The fact that I remembered that it was my baby - that I really had all the control in changing it – even though sometimes I felt like I didn’t. But I had this epiphany that was like, to me I was either gonna come back to it and it’ll be over, or I’m gonna come back to it and do something different and risk people not liking it and it being over again. So either way I’m gonna run the risk of it being over so I might as well have as much fun with it as possible. It’s an outlet, might as well.
KB: Yeah, and it’s hard to give up something that you’ve already invested a lot of time in. I read somewhere as well, and I can’t remember where it was now, that you disliked Eating Us. Why was that?
T: I wrote it in a really lazy way. I kinda like… it was a weird record in that there were no outtakes. I kinda just like wrote it song by song, and after the way people responded to Dandelion Gum, [Eating Us] was really the first record I had ever written knowing that people were listening. I was like “well, I’ll write this and I wanna get it out in 2009, and I’ll bring it to Dave Fridmann and have him polish it up, and it’ll just be cool and everyone will like it.” But I just didn’t put in the effort it needed. I feel like it needed maybe another year of work by me, and I think like, the only redeeming quality of the record is the production work Dave did on it. I think it sounds really neat and really different from anything I’ve done. But it was just… I’ve never worked that way before, and haven’t worked that way since and knowing that I could have put in so much more effort made it a huge regret.
KB: Gotcha. Ya know, I asked because I still really like that record so I was surprised when I read that comment, but of course that’s me as the listener and there’s no way for me to get into your head and know what you wanted [that record] to be. As a fan of the band for about five years now though, I thought that record was great. Yet with that said, Cobra Juicy is the best record you’ve done yet. I also think it’s the most diverse, and I was curious if the songwriting process differed this time. Was it more collaborative in any way, or otherwise different?
T: Well, it was just me alone in a room pretty much for a couple years. It took probably about a year and a half to write. But yeah, I just did it completely solo. I was thinking about not wanting to get into the Black Moth frame of mind, because there’s really kind of a frame of mind since I’ve been doing this now for however many albums, and consciously trying to figure out like why I was unhappy with Eating Us. And one of the things was… I did what I did on Dandelion Gum, and then I just kinda like did it again. And that was not the right way to approach it, because when I made Dandelion Gum, I was totally doing things on the fly. I guess experimenting would be one of the words, but that’s what I wanted to bring back – that kind of energy – with [Cobra Juicy]. So it’s a giant stew of weird ideas and new ideas that come out of my comfort zone.
KB: Right on. So how do you decide what becomes a Tobacco song and what becomes a Black Moth song?
T: The way I’ve always looked at it is this: if it sounds like a pop song that people might like – not that I write with people in mind – but if the end result sounds like a pop song people might like and it isn’t too offensive, then it goes to Black Moth. If it’s something that I think people might be turned off by or offended by or it’s kinda abrasive or unfinished or it’s something that, like, makes me really happy because it’s just fucked, then it goes to Tobacco.
KB: That’s interesting because I always thought it was the other way around, so [laughs]… that’s awesome. So who does all the artwork. Is that you?
KB: I love it because it reminds me of – especially stuff like the ugly orange mask and the basketball head – reminds me of a bunch of toys I had as a kid that were all about being weird and gross. Would you say that a large part of the visual element of Black Moth is sorta informed by the, ya know, ’90s childhood experience?
T: Yeah yeah, a ton of it! I was into all that gross out shit because that’s what my parents got me as kid. I’ll always remember the logos and packaging and everything, and that’s what I was drawn to. I think, at least for me and there aren’t a whole lot of us out there maybe, that anytime I see a record cover that’s big and bright and ugly and [laughs] it’s basically yelling at me, I’ll check it out. It’s just… I dunno, I think album covers, especially now, they’re just so bad. So many bands, their album covers are just so so bad and so boring. I can totally see why you would want to just download the mp3. You don’t need to have the fucking thing in your hand, because it’s just a picture of someone on a beach or something.
T: Basically, yeah.
KB: I can definitely appreciate that because I’m a graphic designer in the day so I can tell pretty quickly looking at artwork how half-assed it is. But ya know, when I look at the Black Moth albums, like the first time I saw the logo on Dandelion Gum, and this is what inspired the question, it reminded of the old Creepy Crawlers logo. I was like ‘that’s rad, I haven’t seen something like that in a long time.’
T: It was actually the You Can’t Do That On Television logo!
KB: Oh, right on!
T: If you go back – and it’s morphed a little in the past few years – but the original logo was meant to be like if you looked at, um, in the intro of the show when [the guy] gets stamped on the head, that’s what it’s supposed to be, that exact design.
KB: [laughs] Holy crap, I’m gonna have to go back and watch it now, I didn’t even make that connection. So speaking of having fun, Sbarro Hottopic. When is that droppin’, man? We want the whole thing!
T: [sighs] I wish it would come out. I wish I could put it out now. It’s just got some really dangerous material on it. [laughs] It’s the kind of thing my lawyer has advised me to never ever release. I love it so much and I want it to come out. I mean, I’d like to think I believe in everything I do, but I dunno, I think I might be a better prank caller than musician. I’m just really proud of it. I have this one call on there, it’s like, I feel like I’ve heard it all, but this is the craziest prank call I’ve ever heard. I’ll slowly get stuff out there though. One guy in the band runs a label called Graveface and he’s doing a charity series, and I’m gonna do a 7″ for it that’s got a couple of tracks on there that are less dangerous and won’t get me in trouble. Hopefully. Maybe that can lead to an album.
KB: Is it because you have to get releases from all these people, or is that sensitive information is getting out in some of these calls? Or is it just super nasty?
T: I mean, some of [the calls are] just super nasty. To get releases… you’d just have to hear it to understand why I can’t get releases from some of these people [laughs], some of these calls are really embarrassing to some of these people. And some of them unfortunately I’ve lost their numbers, so I wouldn’t know how to even get a release from them. It sucks. But something will come out eventually, and I promise it’ll be worth the wait.
KB: This is a two parter: what made you decide to peruse this prank call project, and how do you feel you can kinda do something new that like The Jerky Boys haven’t explored?
T: I think it’s because… I’m sitting in my room right now, and I have two rows of prank call CDs. So that’s probably about 100. I’ve just heard so many prank calls and I know what makes a good one and what makes a bad one and I think I was able to come up with a, I dunno, a group of characters and personas that I just haven’t heard before that just make sense. I feel like my angle is a little different. The Jerky Boys always felt like skits to me – and they’re really great, they’re obviously one of my fucking heroes – but it feels like they’ve got everything they want to say kinda planned out whereas I wanted to keep it more conversational. And I think it’s funner to be channeling some kind of character yourself to always keep the listener invested, but you also need to get that person on the other end to be the one saying the crazier shit. That makes it even funnier. I just did an interview with MTV on the five tips on what makes a successful prank call, and I actually think it’s a good guide, so if you can find that…
KB: I think I saw it actually, and you had mentioned some of these points, and I listened to “Little Ted” a couple weeks ago and you can definitely tell that you’re just kinda rollin’ with it and see when you can get this guy to stop just agreeing with what you’re saying!
T: [laughs] Yeah, and “Little Ted” is a safe one, which is the only reason it’s online. It also kinda demonstrates some of those points. It’s also not edited down that much, I kinda kept it long. I think if you can imagine tightened versions of that call, that’s what the album would be like.
KB: Well maybe one day.
T: Definitely one day. Probably not very soon.
KB: How did you hook up with Eric Wareheim for the Kickstarter video?
T: I’ve known him for a few years, but I can’t remember how we met. I’m sure it had something to do with getting a video made from the Eating Us days, or maybe earlier like the Fucked Up Friends days. I’ve just kept in touch with him ever since.
KB: So you went way over the Kickstarter goal, which is excellent and congratulations on that. What are you gonna do with the extra Kickstarter scratch?
T: [laughs] Well, that’s actually a really funny question actually. So after they take out all the fees and people’s credit cards that won’t go through, I made $112,000, and the final costs on this record after shipping and making all the masks and special vinyl was $115,000. So I’m $3,000 in the hole.
KB: Oof. Well, I just bought the record so there’s a little more coming your way [laughs] and I know a bunch of people that are picking it up this week as well. I mean, the stream I think helped, because a lot of people were like “gotta get this on vinyl because it’ll sound awesome,” which it does.
T: [laughs] Well thank you. I need the charity, Kickstarter like wiped me out.
So there you go. You should buy Cobra Juicy because it’s great, and it sounds great on vinyl, and Black Moth Super Rainbow is a solid ass investment. Pick it up at your brick and mortar store or on their site. If you’re on the east coast, they’re probably near you soon. As for me, I’m stoked on this:
Bronx, NY folk-rock unit Pigeons concoct dark, kaleidoscopic soundscapes populated by loose pop structures and abstract dissonance, shades of wintry stillness, and a hauntological layer of dust. Recently, they expanded their line-up to include acoustic noodlers from the No-Neck Blues Band and Black Twig Pickers, and got to work on their third full-length. They Sweetheartstammers, out next week on Soft Abuse, is packed with hypnotic psychedelia, Francophilia, cobweb-laden sonic spaces, and shadowy retrofuturism, balancing moods of wonder and foreboding with an artisan’s acumen. The founding power duo of partners Clark Griffin and Wednesday Knudsen took some time via email to talk about the band’s origins, their progression from improv to concise songwriting, trash art, and finding unusual muses in the creaking freeform explorations of Jean-Claude Eloy and the mighty Margarita enthusiast Jimmy Buffett.
AZ: I’d love to hear the definitive “how Pigeons came to be” story.
Clark: We lived in Seattle and we played with the Sea Donkeys– a loose association of freaks and assholes, but a good band. We had many things thrown at us during our performances. It was a golden gamelan era, though. We learned a lot about improvisation. Then we moved to New York and kept busy musically, putting out some cassettes and a couple of lathes under the name Pigeons. There have been fewer projectiles for Pigeons, but that might be because attendance at our shows is usually minimal.
AZ: How did Jason Meager of No-Neck Blues Band fame and Nathan Bowles of the Black Twig Pickers come into the permanent line-up?
Clark: We’ve been huge fans of No Neck for years, and in particular, of Jason and Pat [Murano]‘s side project, K Salvatore. Later, we played with NNCK a few times with Sea Donkeys. Our first show as Pigeons was opening for Excepter and NNCK at a short-lived place called Syrup Room in Bushwick [Brooklyn]. Around then, Jason opened his Black Dirt Studios in Upstate New York, where we recorded Virgin Spectacle, which Jason put out on his Black Dirt Records. Si Faustine and the latest, They Sweetheartstammers, were also recorded there. It took a while but our schedules finally aligned and he was able to play bass with us full time.
Wednesday: It was Jason who introduced us to Nathan very recently, when we were looking for a drummer for live performances. And Jason met Nathan through his work with Jack Rose. Nathan drove up from Virginia, we poured a round of whiskies, said “Hi my name is…,” and then we started playing. It was a happy encounter. Both are astonishing players and often more than busy with their own projects, so we’re very lucky [to have them].
AZ: NNCK and Black Twig Pickers come from a more improv-oriented background. How has the new line-up changed your songwriting process?
Clark: Well, Pigeons started out as an improvisation duo. At first it was just drums, saxophone, and noise machine, and later we started renting a guitar by the hour at our practice space. Then Carter Thornton played with us for a few years until we started playing songs, and then he bailed. This phase was more or less inspired by the free jazz greats and [various] musical oddities, as well as by what NNCK and some other contemporaries were doing. It is easier to leave structure behind with the present line-up than it is with the duo, though things can also get very groovy with this rhythm section. The thing is that these guys can do anything. Both play several instruments well– some, very well–, and [since] they come from improvisational backgrounds, they listen well. As for songwriting, we’ll still write the songs, but I think their development will be different once we bring them to the band. We are all just letting it roll in the natural direction that it takes. We’re looking forward to recording with them.
AZ: The new LP has, at least to my ears, a much poppier presence than, say, your Lunettes 7″ from 2009. Was making a more accessible work this go round a natural result, or a conscious change of direction?
Clark: Since we began writing songs, they’ve all seemed poppy to me, so the only real difference that I hear is that the production values are much higher on They Sweetheartstammersthan on anything we’ve done before. Maybe that makes the poppiness stand out more, but it’s always been there. The new album was recorded at Black Dirt using a system called Radar, which combines the best of both the digital and analog worlds. We had thought the new record was a little bit of an odd one, but if you think it’s accessible, that’s great. Maybe people will actually buy it.
AZ: I read recently that you all spent some time in Paris, which probably explains the vague Françoise Hardy vibes throughout the LP. Was the move a musical or personal decision?
Clark: The move was more personal, but we did bring our guitars, rehearse, play, and record, so it was kind of the same as in New York. The main difference is that Paris is civilized and New York is not. This might have an effect on music. I’m not sure.
Wednesday: There have always been songs in French, and Françoise Hardy is certainly a major point of reference, as well as the whole yé yé sound, which is both bizarre and intoxicating. But when we were in France, we were listening to a lot ’60s psych– Eliane Radigue, introduced to us by a good friend who lent us his collection of her recordings–, and Jean-Claude Eloy. We even had a chance to see Brigitte Fontaine and Areski perform, which was wonderful. We spent some time playing with a little-known, super underground group called Radi Noir, which is oriented toward free-form ambient sounds.
AZ: What’s the origin of the unusual album title?
Clark: The “They” comes from the artist who did the cover art, Yuji Agematsu. He takes these epic walks around New York and collects garbage that catches his attention. Then he catalogs these pieces and notes where and when he collected them. Then he maps it all out. He has this whole well-developed process, and he’s been doing this for over 20 years! It is really astonishing art. Anyway, when you speak with Yugi about his art, he refers to these pieces of cataloged trash as “they,” hence the first part of the title. Incidentally, he made 20 handmade covers for the new LP, and he used everything from hair and gum and foil and floss to dogshit.
AZ: Besides the new album and, presumably, some touring, anything else exciting coming down the pipeline for Pigeons?
Clark: We bagged the fall US tour because it just became such a battle to book. So we’ll see. In place of that we’re gonna hole up for two weeks together and see what happens. Have you seen this video [of Jimmy Buffett]? At the end, Buffett hits this high note… that’s our goal.
They Sweetheartstammers is available November 8th via Soft Abuse
This interview originally appeared as an Artist Profile on Altered Zones.
Sun Araw, the “sacred retreat” of Cameron Stallones, rides fleeting moments of spiritual clarity out to the end of the astral plane on his recent 2xLP, Ancient Romans. Guns blazing, the Los Angeles artist returns with his most sonically acrobatic and, depending on your taste, accessible material yet. It’s the type of work that has the potential to broadcast Sun Araw’s Technicolor pastiche of cosmic riddim, sacramental chants, scorched dub, and aquatic ambience far outside the niche catacombs where these sorts of abstract meditations like to dwell.
Ancient Romans is not just a particularly adventurous effort– it’s rife with misdirection. The 80-minute offering keeps the ingredients for a concept album on retainer, but Stallones intimates both directly and cryptically that it’s really more of an introspective affair. On a casual listen, it might sound like DMT-riddled, improvisational treatment of psychedelic Laurel Canyon lore. In actuality, Stallones reveals an unusual, tremendously detailed-oriented approach to sound sculpting. To wit, any assumptions about Ancient Romans are probably patently false, or at least inaccurate. Cameron took some time away from his myriad projects to get mystical with me over email about his new label, Sonic Boom, compositional repetition, and the “porch of the mind.”
KB: Between the Latin references, the album art, and the typeface, Ancient Romans has many trappings of a concept album. Does the LP have any sort of narrative arc or specific overarching idea attached to it?
Cameron: This record has a lot of really powerful spiritual meaning for me. It was recorded during a time of real clarification. A lot of energies and concepts that had long ago taken root were finally getting called by name, and I was spending a lot of time reading some really heavy texts in this garden of succulents up on a hilltop in East LA. I would go there every day after work and just get knocked over by these flickering moments of understanding that were weaving experiences I’ve had into much larger traditions, supporting them from the inside. Then I would spend the rest of the night recording. The garden at dusk is such a potent space. That hanging static feeling. It’s like the porches of the mind: the meeting point of civilization and nature right at the twilight transition. That time acted to sort of set a seal on what had come before and open the door to what lied ahead. Ancient Romans was constructed in that general moment and spirit, and has a lot of those ideas integrated into it on a deep structural level.
KB: Ancient Romans incorporates Djmbes, trumpets, saxophones, and live drums into the Sun Araw fold. Is this move toward more instrumentation something you’re hoping to explore more, on record and in the live setting?
Cameron: I’m always interested in expanding the pallet. Playing a new instrument is like setting an obstacle in your path. It forces you to go around the long way, which becomes something electric because it has that element of discovery. Especially if, like me, you aren’t some polymath instrumentalist, and you end up having to find some interesting way to abuse the thing. As for the live sets, I want as many players as possible, but unfortunately the sort of music I make has not brought those resources to me. Even touring with three people can be financially difficult.
KB: Is your songwriting and recording process heavier on the composed or the improvised side?
Cameron: Everything is generated from improvisation, centered around that moment of discovery. The recorded versions are the first time that material has ever been played. Then I spent a lot of time overdubbing and editing whatever the initial element was. Sometimes something will go wrong on a technical level with the original recording and I’ll attempt to recreate the jam, but it never works. The alchemical moment when something transcends its own substance can’t be recaptured in any way I can figure out. So I’m frequently left with a headache of trying every which way to fix some flubbed recording.
KB: When discussing the music, you consistently talk about tapping into different “zones”? What’s your textbook description of a zone, and what zones informed Ancient Romans?
Cameron: I think probably what I mean is that I’ve always had a powerful sense of the space– physiological, emotional, spiritual– invoked by music. I’ve always used music that way in my life, using it to create, augment, and enrich experiences. I don’t think of myself as a songwriter at all, because I think what I’m after is some distillation of that effect, creating environments with certain properties and relationships. So often those moments in music that have powerful effects on me are fleeting– like an outro, or a couple bars right before the second chorus or something. I’m interested in evoking those spaces so that I can stay a while. That’s why I’m interested in second wave psychedelia, drone, and minimalism. To me, it’s the most direct approach to what gives me my musical kick, which usually involves some idea of mantra, transcendence through repetition, emphasis on texture rather than narrative.
KB: How’d you hook up with the mighty Sonic Boom on mastering detail?
Cameron: You know, he hit me up out of the blue. I found out later that a mutual buddy had made the connection, but I just about lost my seat. Had to play it real cool and not bring my copy of Beyond the Pale for signing the first time we hung out. Spacemen 3, Spectrum, Experimental Audio Research– these are foundation stones of my whole musical existence.
KB: Tell me a bit about your new label, Sun Ark. It’s now an arm of Drag City, right? How did that come about?
Cameron: Sun Ark started as a way for me to reissue and manage the Sun Araw and Magic Lantern catalog. But, as you can imagine, all the sudden, small ideas and side projects that were floating around aimlessly now have a way to come into being. I haven’t really decided how deep I want to go with the label; it’s a huge amount of work even just putting out cassettes. But I think it’s getting decided for me, because there’s a pretty full release schedule just of my own projects, and it keeps piling higher with amazing music from amazing people. The label isn’t part of Drag City, but we have a collaborative relationship for Ancient Romans, since it was more ambitious on the manufacturing front [and] wasn’t something I could do alone. I’m really excited: working with them has been incredibly positive.
Cameron: Probably no new Vibes coming. Magic Lantern is sort of on a lifestyle hiatus, as half of the band is up North and the rest of us are down in LA. There’s hopes to do some recording in the future. Just depends on all sorts of factors.
KB: Any other projects in the pipeline?
Cameron: Well, the big one at the moment is this record I just made with The Congos. My friend Ged [M. Geddes Gengras] and I went down to Jamaica and made an album. We recorded all the music and The Congos wrote and sang the lyrics. It was really an incredible experience. We did a lot of recording down there, and we’re working on bringing out 12″ singles of a lot of damaged dancehall tracks we tracked with local toasters. Right now that’s a pretty full collaborative plate. I’m very interested in collaboration when the situation is right and the proper energy is there.