It sounds like these guys are bringing interesting things out of you. Are you finding yourself surprised onstage a lot?
I don't know if surprised is the right word for it... Something is happening that I'm getting totally immersed in. My whole body and spirit is into it. I'm really enjoying playing with all these different musicians. Yeah, last night was a really great show and everyone was feeling really excited afterwards. And there's nothing more rewarding than that -- when the musicians helping you make your music are having a blast. That's really special.
Right, where they don't feeling like it's just a gig or a job.
It wouldn't be a very good job [laughter]. We're just starting out, so you know the fact that they're still excited at the end of the night when I go to pay them is really nice. I'm blessed to be working with such great musicians.
Being in New York, it's only been the last few years that I've started exploring what musicians are around and started collaborating with people. I've done some sideman gigs and stuff. It's been really nice to break the mold of being in the band, get in the van and drive to the places, and you're always with the same group of people. Not to belittle the magic of that, but after ten years it's a refreshing experience. And it's also nice to be in my local zone where I'm home, my apartment is comfortable with my wife and my dog, and there's all these places to play, all these people to play for, and all these people to play with. There's a million things going on -- that's another cool aspect. What I'm doing now is essentially rooted in Brooklyn and New York City.
How do you think New York informs your sound? You've lived in Massachusetts and you grew up in Texas.
I think it's really helped me. There's a lot of interesting stuff here. Let me put it this way -- there's people doing really good stuff, and that makes me look at what I'm doing with really high standards. There's so much here and so much of it is good, it makes me check every point of the quality of things and every aspect of what I'm doing. I hope to make it stand out.
There have been more comfortable times, like when Apollo lived it Western Massachusetts, which was an amazing, laid back, country lifestyle. That was a comforting and nurturing environment. It's nice to come here where it's fast paced and I have to stay sharp to make it happen. And that's not just from a business standpoint, but from an artistic standpoint. You really have to look at what you're doing and ask why would anyone notice this? And how do I make this stand out?
You mentioned that most of the writing took place on the nylon string guitar, but there's so many interesting sounds on the record. It sounds as if you're running your guitar through a Leslie speaker at one point, at other times I hear Theremin type sounds.
Well, some of the Theremin sounding stuff comes from the pedal steel.
Oh, just really sustained notes?
Yeah, techniques where you double the pedal steel to get this really nice fuzz sound where it's not distorted, it's just sustained and in the mix it sounds like a pure tone. I'm really enjoying experimenting with that. A lot of the music I love is orchestral and has so many instruments, and I did so much of this record in my apartment that it was really fun exploring how I could get those types of sounds that I'm drawn to. I would just search -- I need a high part or I need a baritone part, I need square-wavy-like fuzz, or how can I get flute-y or reed-y tones? So, how can I get all these sounds but being limited to the instruments that I play well -- guitar and pedal steel. It was really fun to approach it saying, I'm looking for a violin sound, what kind of picking technique could I use? What kind of pedals and effects should I use? And where on the guitar should I play to get that timbre?
There's a track called "The Color II" that's sort of prelude to "The Honest Ocean" and that's more of the electronic sounding tracks I've ever done. Everything on that track is a string instrument. There's no synth or keyboards on that track at all. The thing that sounds like a distant piano is arpeggiated chords on the autoharp. The sped up thing that sounds like a synth sequencer is actually guitars just sped up. Some of the things that sound like synth-y swells are actually harmonized fuzz guitars played backwards. So yeah, once you start to manipulate every aspect, you have this electronic vibe, but it still has the sonic warmth of guitars and pedal steel and autoharp.
It sounds like a great time and quite the adventure searching for these sounds.
Definitely. I had a blast making this record. We played some shows and then took it to the studio and recorded the basics to tape in two days of tracking. We recorded every song on the record, and then I did the transfer from tape to digital files that I could take home and do the rest just from my apartment. It was awesome to have the freedom. It isn't like working in the studio, but the creativity it's allowing for is definitely a worthwhile trade off. I'm proud of what a DIY of an effort it was, and I think it helped the music a lot to be everything it could be.
Can you talk about what the experience is like when you're in your apartment, in the zone searching for the right sound?
It's pretty manic, actually. I'm lucky that most of my neighbors go to work in the morning and don't get home until 6 or 7 p.m. I was able to make a lot of noise. My wife would come home from work and some days I would just be ecstatic and giddy and I'd be like, "let's go out to dinner to celebrate what I recorded!" [laughter] And then other days she would come home and I'd be completely down in the dumps, you know, "this album totally sucks, and I'm a terrible musician." Yeah, it's manic as hell.
So, when it is working, and you're in the thick of it working, how do you describe that?
Shit, that's what I live for. Those are the greatest moments in my life. When I stumble onto something that works or nail what I was hoping it would sound like, and I get it on the first try or whatever it is, I'll just laugh out loud. I'll just yell out, "Yeah!" by myself. It's like there's nobody to talk to [laughter].
When that happens, is that when you feel like you're getting the glimpse into that magical sound that's in your head and that you're finding the music that's a part of your being?
I feel like I have a ways to go. But this is my first project that, from start to finish, I feel like everything you hear relates to that. And there's still evolution of it ahead. Because I'm doing this myself and because it's always been this thing that I wanted to hear, and since I'm writing all the songs and making all the decisions, this is the first time I'm getting close to what that thing is. I can't really pinpoint or define it. And it's not that I didn't have these ecstatic moments in the past with Apollo Sunshine and stuff. But that more of an experiment where you would write a song, but you would never go too far with it because you'd have to leave room for the other guys to take it in other directions and see what else it could be. So that's sort of the experimental aspect of how we worked. There were a few songs on Shall Noise Upon where it was just a symptom of living in different cities. So as I was writing material for the album, I would finish a song and then realize that I couldn't wait six months to record it. I couldn't sit on a melody that long without hearing it with other instruments. So, I inevitably started doing that because I would get impatient. There were a couple of songs that were pretty realized when I came in, like "Happiness," the instrumental track. But then there's a song like "Breeze," which was completely collaborative, and I couldn't be happier with the way that came out.